Inherit the Land
Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie's Will
The history of a legal fight in which an all-white jury awarded African Americans a North Carolina estate
In the early twentieth century, two wealthy white sisters, cousins to a North Carolina governor, wrote identical wills that left their substantial homeplace to a black man and his daughter.
Maggie Ross, whose sister Sallie died in 1909, was the richest woman in Union County, North Carolina. Upon Maggie's death in 1920, her will bequeathed her estate to Bob Ross—who had grown up in the sisters' household—and his daughter Mittie Bell Houston. Mittie had also grown up with the well-to-do women, who had shown their affection for her by building a house for her and her husband. This house, along with eight hundred acres, hundreds of dollars in cash, and two of the white family's three gold watches went to Bob Ross and Houston. As soon as the contents of the will became known, more than one hundred of Maggie Ross's scandalized cousins sued to break the will, claiming that its bequest to black people proved that Maggie Ross was mentally incompetent.
Revealing the details of this case and of the lives of the people involved in it, Gene Stowe presents a story that sheds light on and complicates our understanding of the Jim Crow South. Stowe's account of this famous court battle shows how specific individuals, both white and black, labored against the status quo of white superiority and ultimately won. An evocative portrait of an entire generation's sins, Inherit the Land: Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie's Will hints at the possibility for color-blind justice in small-town North Carolina.
"Growing up in a storytelling North Carolina family, I just knew there wasn't a scandal about my beloved state that I hadn't heard. Imagine my surprise when Inherit the Land: Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie's Will came across my desk. The lowdown? Back in 1920, Maggie Ross, the wealthiest white woman in Union County, died at 80 and left her sizable estate to Bob Ross and his daughter Mittie Bell Houston, both black folks who worked for her. More than a hundred of Maggie's white kin contested the will. A court case ensued. Pick up author Gene Stowe's riveting account to find out the surprising verdict. "- Patrik Henry Bass, Essence
"Saying a historical figure was a product of his or her time is how some people try to justify attitudes that history has not been kind to. There are always people who were products of the same time but rejected prevailing political views or social mores. Of course, these 'do-gooder' idealists got ostracized and persecuted before history proved them right. Gene Stowe's book, Inherit the Land: Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie's Will is about two idealists. "- Howard Dukes, South Bend Tribune
"Gene Stowe has given us a vivid portrait of a time that is poorly understood in America. This is a fascinating and well-told story, specific and focused, that makes a larger point. It has a fresh and original feel, and it adds another dimension of understanding to the troubled racial history of the south. "- Frye Gaillard, author of Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement That Changed America