Monday, December 03, 2001

Land takings forced family to move here




By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Rosie Fields' blood boils when she recalls how her family was forced from their Yazoo City, Miss., home by whites more than 50 years y ago.

        “It really makes me mad,” she said last week from her Cincinnati home, “because I think I was kind of half stupid to leave. But at the same time, it was for the better. And so that's why I left ... somebody was going to hurt. It was just that serious.

        “I just try to put bygones in the background, but I do think about it sometimes.”

        Mrs. Fields' family is among the victims of violent land takings documented by the Associated Press in which black landowners were driven from their property and lost ownership of it.

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        In Yazoo County, Miss., Norman Stephens and his twin brother, Homer, ran a trucking business, hauling cotton pickers to plantations. One day in 1950, a white farmer demanded that Mr. Stephens immediately deliver workers to his field, Mr. Stephens' widow, Mrs. Fields, explained.

        Mr. Stephens explained he had other commitments and promised to drop off the men later, his wife said. The farmer got the sheriff.

        That evening, the brothers found themselves locked in the county jail. They squeezed through a window, leaped to the ground and ran. Mrs. Fields said her husband later told her why: They had overheard the sheriff talking about where to hide their bodies.

        Mrs. Fields said Mr. Stephens and his brother quickly flagged down a bus to Cincinnati. A year later, she and her five children joined them.

        For a decade, the family made mortgage and property tax payments on the house they left behind, records show. They never dared to return, Mrs. Fields said.

        Finally, in the 1960s, they stopped paying and lost the house.

        Her husband, who died in 1969, kept quiet about the situation. She's been back to Yazoo City twice — for an uncle's funeral and in 1957 for her grandmother's funeral. Both were quick trips.

        “I wasn't scared. ... I'm a funny type of person. I just feel like whatever is gone happen is just gone happen,” Mrs. Fields said.

Property made blacks targets

       



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