Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the property that the family claims was stolen from them, as well as a statement from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Descendants of one of the few Black families to own land in Madison County shortly after the end of slavery are continuing to try to reclaim property they say belonged to their ancestors.
The land they are trying to reclaim is a 2.25-acre property on Holmes Avenue in Huntsville, which is now a part of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) campus.
The family says the property had been in their family since 1870, but it was taken from them in the 1950s.
The Jones family says the possibility of securing generational wealth through land ownership was never their reality like it should’ve been and a ‘wrong’ that was committed decades ago deserves to be made right.
Willie Jones’ five living children have been on a quest since the late 1990s to get back the land once owned by their father.
Their father Willie declined the city’s offer to obtain a portion of his land. The family says their property was then condemned, and they were forced to move – sparking a reality his sons, Willie and Billy, will never forget.
“It was took from us, took from my father. All the hardship and pain that he went through, what we’ve been through,” Willie Jones said. “I had to quit working to take care of my siblings.”
“I get out there often because you always feel a good feeling when you go back to your birthplace,” Billy Jones said. “You wonder why our life had a certain turn for the worse when it started out on a good footing.”
The land, according to the family, was an essential part of their upbringing and it was part of their father’s legacy. JT and Brenda Jones say losing the land caused difficulties and pain they never thought they’d experience.
“I feel it was a terrible thing, a horrific thing that happened to the family. I thank God that we made it here. We are today that same family that they did all these horrific things to,” JT Jones told News 19.
“We were thrown into poverty so much until we moved like a military family, if you will. We went from house to house, houses that were so deplorable,” Brenda Jones said.
A spokesperson from UAH provided a statement to News 19 providing some insight into the family’s claims:
“The public records related to the referenced land, which is a 2.25-acre Athens Pike land parcel located on Holmes Avenue, indicate that Mr. Willie Jones and members of his immediate family, through the assistance of the family’s legal counsel, were compensated for the interests they held in the property at the time Madison County and the City of Huntsville obtained it in the 1950s and early 1960s. After legally acquiring the parcel, Madison County and the City of Huntsville later conveyed the parcel to The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama. In 1969, The University of Alabama in Huntsville was founded.
As UAH has previously shared with the Jones family and Where Is My Land, the records evidencing the City of Huntsville and Madison County’s legal acquisition of the parcel, and the later transfer of that parcel to the Board, are publicly available at the Madison County Records Center and the Madison County Probate Court. Any further inquiries should be directed to the appropriate parties, as neither the UA System Board of Trustees nor UAH acquired the property from the Jones family.”University of Alabama in Huntsville
The Jones family will host a community event over the weekend to commemorate what their father meant to the city of Huntsville and to raise awareness regarding the land they’re looking to reclaim, something Michael Jones says his father would’ve loved.
“Of all the atrocities that our family has went through, we’re going to celebrate it on Saturday of the life of our father. Our father never saw a penny of this great historical property that was stolen from him,” Jones said.
Family representatives say they are preparing to present a request to UAH for a second time in the land dispute. The family is being assisted by ‘Where Is My Land’, an organization that helps people reclaim their land through advocacy and research.
The event titled “Activate Huntsville” is scheduled for Saturday, October 14th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Saint Luke Church on Sparkman Drive.