This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Heir Property: Legal and Cultural Dimensions of Collective Landownership in Alabama's Black Belt




Dyer, Janice

Type of Degree



Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology


When a landowner dies without a will, his or her descendents inherit the property as a communal interest. Heir property, as it is often called, is a common form of landownership among African Americans in the rural South. Because title to the land is not clear, there are many legal complications: ineligibility for housing programs, inability to secure a mortgage or sell timber, and vulnerability to land loss through partition and tax sales. Despite these problems, heir property is still common and many families make no attempts to clear their titles. While the legal implications of heir property are well documented, the cultural side to this phenomenon has been largely ignored. Based on personal interviews with heir landowners and others, this thesis examines why, despite the numerous problems associated with it, heir property persists and how it may serve as a source of social, cultural, and familial security.