Our Stories

Intention Created the Racial Wealth Gap. It Will Take Intention to Close It.

In response to a deeply-reported article about black land loss co-published by The New Yorker and ProPublica, LISC CEO Maurice A. Jones underscores how this ongoing and insidious form of displacement has widened the country’s racial wealth gap. Just as that gap was wrought through intentional discriminatory policy and practices, says Jones, so it will take intentional action and law to close it.

The below is a response to the article:
Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery. The Reels Brothers Spent Eight Years in Jail for Refusing to Leave It. 
by Lizzie Presser

In our line of work, we know the statistics well: the median wealth of African Americans is about a tenth of that of white Americans. Home and property ownership have long been crucial drivers of generational wealth in the U.S. And the de juris, discriminatory policies of redlining and real estate covenants that sabotaged black homeownership for nearly a century are a prime reason that African Americans have not been able to build assets anywhere close to what white Americans have. Racial income and wealth disparities are a product of historical and continuing bias and discrimination—in everything from real estate and banking to education and the tax code—that have systematically undermined economic opportunities for households of color.

I recently read a powerful article by Lizzie Presser, published jointly by ProPublica and The New Yorker, about black land loss over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st. Presser shines a much-needed spotlight on yet another form of predation that has affected African American families’ ability to build wealth and stay in the places where their roots have spread for decades.  

Home and property ownership have long been crucial drivers of generational wealth in the U.S.

Between 1910 and 1997, through a complex web of arcane and discriminatory regulations and legal loopholes, African American families lost about 90 percent of their farmland. That translates into hundreds of billions of dollars of lost wealth. And those property losses endure, as evidenced by the story of the Reels family, who are still fighting to hang onto 65 riverfront acres near North Carolina’s central coast that their ancestors purchased just a generation after slavery, and where successive generations have lived and made their living for more than 150 years. “If you want to understand wealth and inequality in this country, you have to understand black land loss,” says a lawyer quoted in the story.

Presser’s article is yet another example of how intentional past and ongoing discrimination, emanating from both public and private sectors, have contributed to the racial wealth gap that characterizes our country. Along with other important reads, like Richard Rothstein’s indispensable The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, the piece paints a nuanced portrait of the social, emotional and spiritual dimensions of this kind of inequity. LISC’s work across this land reveals similar stories in every community—urban and rural, north and south.

Just as intention created these gaps, it takes intentional practices to close them. And that’s why LISC is focused on building wealth in communities of color. Supporting minority entrepreneurship, creating access to capital for minority business owners, working to increase wages and help people build 21st century job skills, and constructing quality day care centers and schools are just some of the concerted ways we do this. Together, with intention and conviction, we can upend the racial wealth gap and shape our country into the just, productive and nourishing land we know it can be for everyone.

Maurice JonesMaurice A. Jones, President & CEO, LISC
Prior to joining LISC, Maurice was the Secretary of Commerce for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed 13 state agencies focused on the economic needs in his native state. Before that, he was second in command at the U.S. Dept. of HUD, serving as deputy secretary in charge of operations. He has also been Commissioner of Virginia’s Dept. of Social Services and Deputy Chief of Staff to then-Gov. Mark Warner. At the U.S. Treasury Dept. during the Clinton Administration, he managed the CDFI fund. His private sector experience includes top positions at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, a Richmond law firm and a private philanthropy investing in community-based efforts to benefit children in Washington, D.C.