Lincoln County, Mississippi
White farmers known as White Caps, angered by the prosperity experienced by successful Black farmers, often used violence and intimidation to force African-Americans off their land.
The Brookhaven Leader newspaper reported at the time that Eli Hilson of Lincoln County, Mississippi, got a warning on Nov. 18, 1903, when White Caps shot up his house just hours after his new baby was born. Hilson ignored the warning.
A month later, the 39-year-old farmer was shot in the head as he drove his buggy toward his farm, the newspaper said. The horse trotted home, delivering Hilson’s body to his wife, Hannah.
She struggled unsuccessfully without her husband to raise their 11 children and work the 74-acre farm, losing the property through a mortgage foreclosure in 1905. According to land records, the farm went for $439 to S.P. Oliver, a member of the county board of supervisors. Today, the property is assessed at $61,642.
Jasper County, Mississippi
In Jasper County, Mississippi, according to historical accounts, the Ku Klux Klan, resentful that African-Americans were buying and profiting from land, regularly attacked Black-owned farms, burned houses, lynched Black farmers and chased Black landowners away.
On the night of Sept. 10, 1932, 15 whites torched the courthouse in Paulding, where property records for the eastern half of Jasper County, then predominantly Black, were stored. Records for the predominantly white western half of the county were safe in another courthouse miles away. The door to the Paulding courthouse’s safe, which protected the records, usually locked, was found open with most of the records reduced to ashes. Suddenly, it conveniently became unclear who owned a big piece of eastern Jasper County.
In December 1937, the Masonite Corp., a wood products company and one of the largest landowners in the area, was granted a clear title for 9,581 acres of land, which has since yielded millions of dollars in natural gas, timber and oil, according to state records.
From the few property records that remain, the AP was able to document that at least 204.5 of those acres were acquired by Masonite after Black owners were driven off by the KKK. At least 850,000 barrels of oil have been pumped from this property, according to state oil and gas board records and figures from the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council, an industry group.
Today, the land is owned by International Paper Corp., which acquired Masonite in 1988.