It seemed obvious to me that in a country grappling with what reparations to Black Americans for slavery and Jim Crow and beyond might look like, what they should not look like was a Black family being forced to spend thousands of dollars on attorney fees if they hoped to save, or simply be paid fair market value for, reparations land they’d held since 1890 as it was converted to a parkway that would enable big corporations like Amazon, Walmart, and Target to access what is quickly becoming the busiest port on the eastern seaboard.
I naively believed it would be rather easy, or at least possible in 2020, to find local probate attorneys who were unencumbered by political and economic ties in the Savannah area who wanted to help the Quartermans, and that at least one of them would be outraged enough by the unique injustice of the story to offer to do the work pro bono. But after months of searching and many dead-end referrals both locally and through our meeting in New York with Living Cities, it became clear that we needed a Georgia attorney based outside the Savannah area, and that someone was going to need to pay for that attorney. It took me a while, and some help from generous attorney friends in California, to see that this someone could and should be me.
My belief that the injustice being done to the Quarterman family was unique was naïve. It’s true that the fact that Randy Quarterman’s great-great-great grandfather had been given any reparations land at all by my great-great-great grandfather after Sherman’s Special Field Order №15 failed was unique, but it’s also true that the present day railroading of Black families (and to a lesser extent, white families) out of their land for less than fair market value by big American corporations via the strictures of heirs property laws in Georgia is not.
The $973 million Port of Savannah harbor expansion project (SHEP) will be completed in 2020, after which it will be able to handle 14,000 TEU ultra large container vessels — ships with market values of more than $90 million that carry between 2.5 and 3.5 million gallons of fuel, each. Port authorities estimate that US businesses will save up to 40% in transportation costs by going through this port. The…