The remarkable case of Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels, two Carteret County brothers who were held in jail for eight years on civil contempt charges over a land dispute, is getting attention on the national level.
Their story, which The Eastern Beacon reported on earlier this year, is being featured in the July 22 issue of The New Yorker. The article, headlined “Kicked Off the Land,” explores the brothers’ story through the lens of racial and economic inequalities in the post-reconstruction South, when African Americans lost up to 90 percent of their farm land.
Reporter Lizzie Presser includes interviews with Davis and Reels, their mother, Gertrude Reels, and Beaufort attorney Claud Wheatly, III. who represented both the Reels family and the developer who hoped to build on the land.
In addition to the Reels case, the piece acknowledges several similar cases of black families being dispossessed of their land, both in Carteret County as well as other coastal areas.
From the article: “The problem [of dispossession] has been especially acute in Carteret County.
“Beaufort, the county seat, was once the site of a major refugee camp for freed people. Black families eventually built homes near where the tents had stood. But in the nineteen-seventies the town became a tourist destination, with upscale restaurants, boutiques, and docks for yachts. Real-estate values surged, and out-of-town speculators flooded the county.
“David Cecelski, a historian of the North Carolina coast, told me, “You can’t talk to an African American family who owned land in those counties and not find a story where they feel like land was taken from them against their will, through legal trickery.”