Personal Reparations 3: Heirs Property, “Safe” Words, and ‘Slave Play’

Sarah Eisner
12 min readDec 16, 2019
Photo by Matthias Wagner on Unsplash
  • Spoiler alert: This essay details the last scene of “Slave Play.”
  • Part 1 and Part 2 of this story can be found by clicking these links.

“Understand…” seventy-four-year-old Andrew Quarterman Jr. said to me from across the table as I ate avocado toast at Le Pain Quotidien in Manhattan’s financial district. Our Living Cities board meeting would take place later in the WeWork offices upstairs, on the thirtieth floor. “People don’t want you to do this.”

“This” was telling our story of trying to save the Quartermans’ reparations land from condemnation and unfair market pricing. “This” was telling it far and wide, to the CEOs of some of America’s major foundations — Ford, Rockefeller, Bank of America, Bill & Melinda Gates — that sort of thing, in the next few hours. “This” included discovering a frequently shady land grab for warehousing involving the usual suspects — Amazon, Target, Walmart — that the national and local governments, and large “Georgia Ports Corporation A” would like to keep quiet in order to control increased financial interest in Port Wentworth. “This” included following a lot of dead leads from white attorneys who referred us to other white attorneys with reputations for railroading Black families right off their land (and the challenges we had with finding legal representation will consume a future essay). “This” included our personal experience with a Georgia legal system that is still structured to uphold racist policies that prevent folks, predominantly African American folks who own land as heirs property, from building wealth.

Heirs property refers to land that passes from generation to generation without a legally designated owner, resulting in ownership divided among all living descendants in a family and a whole host of complicated restrictions that prevent generational wealth building and the revitalization of neighborhoods. Zeike Quarterman, Randy Quarterman’s formerly enslaved great-great-great grandfather who was deeded the reparations land by my great-great-great grandfather, died intestate, or without a will, as was typical of formerly enslaved people and of others without education or legal representation. As a result his reparations land became heirs property.

Sarah Eisner

Writer, reader, compulsive swimmer and apple fritter eater.