Michael Robinson said his family inherited 127 acres of land in Barlow Bend, Alabama after his grandfather Joe Ely died. Robinson was unaware of the inheritance until a stranger, James E. Deshler, filed a lawsuit in an attempt to "force them to sell their shares of their land."
Deshler had previously purchased 1/15 of the Robinson family land, which granted him the legal right to try and acquire the entire plot under Alabama real estate law. Robinson convened a "land retention committee" that included over 40 relatives to fight off the stranger's attempt to take their land.
“I didn’t want three or four generations from now for some member of the family to say, ‘Didn’t we have over 100 acres of land?’” Robinson said. “I didn’t want someone to say, ‘That generation didn’t fight to keep the land in the family.’ So we adopted this motto of: Not on our watch.”
However, because so many interested parties were involved in the suit, the court battle lasted years.
“It was like herding cats for a while,” Robinson said.
A judge finally dismissed the case in the family's favor earlier this year. The family was also able to reclaim Deshler’s 1/15 interest in the property.
“To me, it had even more meaning that people were enslaved on that land, and now we owned it, and we had the opportunity to change the narrative, the legacy, and the history on that land,” Robinson said. “Reclaiming the land is about reclaiming our birthright."
Though he never met his grandfather, Robinson said it was important to honor his legacy by reclaiming the land.
"He could only dream or imagine where we are as people of color today. And I wanted to take the blood, sweat, and tears that went into that land and not let that die,” he said.