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‘My Matriarchs and Patriarchs Worked Hard to Purchase This Land’: Black Family Wins Battle Against Suburban Atlanta County to Keep Ancestral Property Known as ‘The Promised Land’

A Black family in Snellville, Georgia, won a battle to keep Gwinnett County from seizing their land via eminent domain following an uproar from the community. Doretha Livsey, wife of the family patriarch, said the family received a letter on April 20 notifying her of the decision.

Livsey’s father-in-law Robert Livsey bought 100 acres of the suburban Atlanta property during the 1920s. The land includes Lake Sheryl and once was part of a 1,000-acre 19th century plantation that was known as “The Promised Land.”

The Livsey family
The Livsey family won efforts to save their home from seizure by Gwinnett County by eminent domain. (Photo: Atlanta News First screenshot / YouTube)

“People everywhere…They come here to The Promised Land,” said Livsey. “My matriarchs and patriarchs worked hard to purchase this land.” 

Livsey said her husband, Thomas Livsey, built several small businesses and homes on the property in 1960. The former plantation that enslaved his ancestors was turned into a community for African-Americans.

The family was shocked when Gwinnett County officials sent Mr. Livsey a letter earlier this month informing him that the county would seize two pieces of property from the family after he’d already sold the county 1.5 acres of the land in 2016, including the Maguire-Livsey House, or the “Big House,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The county reportedly said they planned to pay the family $700,000 for the properties to expand the museum and historical park already planned with the land previously sold to the county, complete with recreated slave housing and an antebellum look on the property. The couple currently lives across from the properties the county wanted to seize.

At the time, Mrs. Livey said she had no intention of selling more of her family’s land.

“We do not intend to sell,” said Doretha Livsey. “We have plans for the future, but the main thing is right now to hold onto our land and not to let anyone take it.”

One family member said she was concerned that the county had yet do anything with the property they already bought.

“Nothing has been done, so my faith is not with the county,” said Jennifer Moody. “The county hasn’t done anything since it was purchased. It’s been sitting. To me, nothing has happened. What makes them think that we’re going to trust them with this if they haven’t done anything there?”

Gwinnett County NAACP President Penny Poole told reporters at a news conference last week that the county was trying to erase the Livseys in the same way they had numerous Black families in the past

“Right now Black people are being erased from Gwinnett County,” Poole said.

Alexis Livsey is Mrs. Livsey’s granddaughter and said it would be impossible to put a price tag on the land. She lives with her children on one of the properties the county tried to take via eminent domain.

“We’re going to step up, we’re going to speak up and we’re going to speak out and show out and speak up for our land,” she said . “We’re not just going to let somebody take it from us.”This is our life, this is our livelihood, this is our family. This is more than money. You can’t ever put a price on love and family and history. It’s deeper than that. Way deeper than that.”

After receiving a letter from Gwinnett County advising the Livseys that they were no longer exercising eminent domain and “No further actions will be taken in this regard,” Mrs. Livsey said she was happy her family was “victorious.”

“We won out. We won out,” she said. “I’m happy to say we were victorious. I was ready to fight for it, OK.”

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