Montgomery, Ala., Razing Homes of African Americans Along Civil Rights Trail

Urban blight is leading to a fight over property. Guess who is losing?

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The city of Montgomery, Ala., is declaring homes "blighted" and condemning them. The home of a woman named Karen Jones was declared blighted because of a ragged porch and bulldozed. Many of Jones' things were still in the house, since she did not have time to move her belongings out. The city then promptly sent her a bill for $1,225 for the demolition. If she doesn't pay, they will put a lien on the property. If she still doesn't pay, the city will seize her land and sell it at auction. What happened to Jones is not unusual -- it has happened to dozens of properties in this area. The owners of the properties are disproportionately black and impoverished. The razing of the homes is taking place along a federally funded civil rights trail where civil rights icons like Rosa Parks once lived. "What's happening in Montgomery is a civil rights crisis," says David Beito, a history professor at the University of Alabama who, as chair of the Alabama State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, held hearings on the demolitions in April 2009. While some of the homes were eyesores, some of them have been "wrongly" targeted and identified as "blighted." The city then goes in and bulldozes them, and the owners do not have the means to fight back. Beito refers to it as "eminent domain through the back door," although this is worse because eminent domain requires the government to pay owners fair value for the property. Demolishing homes not only allows the government not to pay fair value but also sticks the owners with the bill. Talk about being kicked while you're down. We've got many questions, such as what does the city plan to do with the land? Why haven't the homes been declared landmarks if they fall along a federally funded civil rights trail? Why aren't civil rights organizations doing anything about this? If they are, what are they doing? This sad situation sounds as if it will only get worse if "blight" continues to be an acceptable term for destroying people's lives.

Read more at our partner site Slate.com.

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