Listen to this article here

Yolanda Tylu Owens, a descendant of California’s earliest Black settlers, is leading the charge to reclaim the land that was stolen from her ancestors.

According to NBC News, Owens believes that it is up to her to fight for what was taken, saying, “No one’s going to do it for us.”

She and other descendants are determined to receive reparations. They want their stolen land back. The fight for justice has been ongoing for years, but Owens and other descendants of California’s earliest Black settlers have reignited this movement with new vigor. They say they won’t rest until they receive what is rightfully theirs.

stolen land
The document showing that land was granted to Yolanda Owens’ great-great-grandfather Edward Hatton, at the site where that property was seized in Napa, Calif., in May. (Marissa Leshnov for NBC News)

Black and Gold

The California Gold Rush of 1848 brought a wave of migrants to the state in search of wealth and opportunity. Among them were formerly enslaved Black people, who had been granted freedom following the Civil War.

Despite facing discrimination and prejudice from white settlers, these African American pioneers persevered and found success in mining for gold as well as buying land that they could call their own. This was an incredible feat considering the odds stacked against them.

With strength and determination, these individuals overcame immense adversity by becoming owners of land during a time when few Black people owned property.

Nine months ago, Owens was researching her family tree when she made a remarkable discovery: Her ancestor Edward Hatton had owned land in California – land that she later learned had been stolen from him. This revelation sparked in Owens a burning passion for justice and reparations, leading her to become an advocate for reclaiming the stolen land of Black settlers in California.

A dark history in California: Stolen land

The history of California’s founding is a dark one, marked by the often violent acquisition and theft of land from Indigenous people. California’s failure to right this wrong has been an example of systemic racism and injustice.

During the 19th century, it was common for Black people in California to be subjected to violence and property burning. This often resulted in them being forced to evacuate their homes with little or no warning. These injustices were driven by racism and a desire for land acquisition.

Owens explained that this was the reality for her ancestors that were forced to evacuate Napa following the burning and destruction of their high-end restaurant, The Arcade.

Through her research she discovered that her great-great-great grandfather owned the deed for three lots in downtown Napa, California as well as 209 acres of land in Napa Valley. According to NBC News, Napa officials confirmed that the three lots were never sold and there are no other deeds attached to those properties. However, In 2013 a Sept 11th memorial was built there.

Reclaiming what was stolen

In February 1885, the Hattons acquired the 209-acre land for $1,500. Yolanda Tylu Owens conducted extensive research using diverse documents, revealing that there was an interest among white individuals to obtain the land. After eight years of owning the property, a white woman alleged that the Hattons had failed to make a payment of $400.

This led to the land being auctioned off in a court hearing in which the Hattons did not attend. The woman successfully purchased the land and sold it to the county treasurer for the price she had purchased it for.

Owens believes that it was a scheme to steal the land from her ancestors and allow the treasurer to own even more land in Napa Valley. “The treasurer, who had already owned other large parts of that mountain, put the land in her own name, and that was that,” Owens said.

It is difficult to estimate the generational wealth that could have been acquired by Owens had her ancestors not been subjected to such injustice. Despite facing oppressive conditions, these African American settlers fought against all odds in their pursuit for land ownership. 

The family’s story serve as an example of how racism has robbed many minorities from achieving economic success throughout history.

Owens is currently in the process of filing a lawsuit to reclaim the 209-acre land that was unlawfully taken from her ancestors. She plans to use documents, including her great-great-great grandfather’s original deed, to support her case.

One reply on “Black Descendant Seeks Return of Stolen California Land”

Comments are closed.