Contested Landscapes: Film Narratives and the Meaning of Land Rights

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:20 PM
Room: Booth 61
Oral Presentation
Sarah FRANZEN , Emory University, GA
In rural areas of southeastern USA, African-Americans have fought to maintain land ownership in order to protect independent farmers and maintain economic and political freedom. Struggles over property rights carry a heavy history from enslavement to contemporary racial discrimination. Landownership among African-Americans peaked around 1910, after which there has been a steady decline of ownership. This trend has many causes, including intimidation, force, access to capital and information, and the legal nature of many African-American landholdings.

Alongside the legal battles and political movements that have come to define land ownership, however, are lived experiences and personal relationships that are intimately tied to landscapes. Using ethnographic film to document and present images of land and stories from rural African-Americans who claim land rights, my research examines the complex and overlapping interactions between humans and land. Land is more than an economic and political asset; for many rural African-Americans land holds meaning and memories and creates a sense of place and identity. These stories reveal that the best legal option for retaining land is not always congruent with the inherent meaning of ownership. In this paper, I use interdisciplinary modes of inquiry to examine the structure of historic and contemporary African-American land ownership and land loss and to demonstrate how personal stories and oral histories often reveal symbolic and temporal layers of understanding that question the very meaning of land rights.