HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Imagine your ancestors purchasing land more than 150 years ago to ensure your family could possibly secure generational wealth for decades to come. Now imagine that nearly 100 years later that land was taken from you.
The Jones family says the 10 acres of property on Holmes Avenue has been in the family since 1870. The family was one of the few Black families to own property in Madison County after the end of slavery.
However, nearly 100 years later, they claim the land was stolen from them through lies and deceit.
“This was historical property and was a means to our family having wealth in our generation but because of this theft we don’t have it,” said Michael Jones, the youngest of the five living children of Willie and Lola Jones.
The land had a well that was the Jones family’s source of drinking water. The family freely shared the water source with others that lived along Athens Pike.
According to records obtained by the family attorney city officials in Madison County condemned the land in 1954 after Willie Jones turned down an offer of only $900 dollars for a small portion of that land that included the well, and the family was forced to move.
The barter opened the door for city officials to begin the condemnation.
Despite claiming the water was unfit for human consumption, the city built a pump house at the location. According to records, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) now sits on the land that the family’s attorneys say was allegedly stolen.
“Having no access to their mail the condemnation for the other properties started in areas where the actual home was located,” explained Kamala Miller-Lester, a researcher with Where Is My Land, an organization dedicated to helping Black families recover historical land.
As part of the investigation by Lester, UAH handed the Jones family attorneys some documents to show that Willie and Lola Jones signed the deed to W.L. Sanderson, the chief of the Huntsville Land Acquisition Office in 1958. The Jones siblings say because of their dad’s lack of education, he couldn’t sign his name — and those documents were forged.
“Their father unfortunately was not literate,” Lester continued. “Before this transaction, he had signed his name with an ‘X’ and we also have evidence of that.”
According to the Jones family, the duck pond that sits in front of the campus of UAH on Sparkman Drive is less than one thousand feet from where the well was on their property.
Billy Jones, the eldest sibling, told News 19 the source of water from that well is now the water source for homes and businesses in the area and has contributed to major infrastructure in the City of Huntsville.
“The water comes up from up the well and runs under the bridge from the other side of Holmes Avenue and feeding the duck pond and all the building in the area,” said Jones.
The Jones siblings began researching the loss of their father’s property to recover what is owed to the family in 1995.