Black Americans, Landowner, Tenant farmer on his front porch, Taxes

New Book Reveals How The U.S. Stole $600B From Black Americans Through Unfair Taxes Post-Slavery

A new book details the $600 billion stolen from Black Americans nationwide.

A new book is set to unravel how the U.S. stole $600 billion from Black Americans.

Andrew W. Kahrl, professor of history and African American studies at the University of Virginia, put extensive research in his new book which describes how U.S. bureaucracies created the nation’s ongoing racial wealth gap by implementing a system of highly unjust municipal and state taxes, Bloomberg reported. The Black Tax: 150 Years of Theft, Exploitation, and Dispossession in America shares statistics, studies, and tales of Black Americans being cheated out of land ownership and pushed into poverty by racist laws and practices dating back to the Jim Crow era.

“This history sheds new light on the forces generating economic inequality in America and the racial character of those inequalities,” Kahrl writes.

The book pairs personal stories with rich details about municipalities nationwide that used complex tax collection to fund distribution to white land and property owners, and the economic dynamics spanning over a century of U.S. history.

Starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, unfair tactics were used to doubly disadvantage Black landowners by artificially inflating property value estimates for tax calculation, overcharging them for their land, and exploiting their inability to pay as a means to seize their properties.

Examples include Anthony Fleming and J.R. Rooks, two Black men forced off their farmland by white supremacist mobs, who went on to establish a town with the goal of enabling Black Americans to own land. By 1911, Edmonson, Arkansas, encompassed 30 square miles of stores, a bank, a hotel, and a post office for local Black homeowners.

However, 20 years later, the town was no more after white plantation owners plotted to seize the land by imposing taxes on lots the Edmonson residents were unaware of. Once the residents failed to pay the taxes they had no clue about, the plantation owners seized the land. It was deeded over to one of the plantation owners who had concocted the scheme and demolished all of the buildings.

In 1920, Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr. lost 24 acres of land in a tax sale “under dubious circumstances” after the great-great-grandfather of George Floyd failed to pay $18.83 in taxes. Losing the land forced the Stewart family into poverty.

When looking at the 11 million acres of land taken from Black Americans, it equates to $326 billion in today’s dollars. Not to forget the millions in taxes Black Americans have overpaid for over a century. From 1870 to 2020, Black Americans were overtaxed by more than $275 billion in 2023 dollars.

Kahrl doesn’t just focus on the grim findings but he does share possible solutions to making up for the last century of financial oppression against the Black community. He suggests the establishment of a federal fiscal equity program that mirrors Canada’s approach, where funds are allocated to local governments based on their needs. He also suggests introducing a universal home tax exemption for numerous Americans, especially lower-income homeowners or those residing in historically neglected areas. Another option would be to impose taxes on the wealthiest individuals in the U.S.

“This is the past that we live with today. But it does not have to be our future,” Kahrl writes.

The Black Tax: 150 Years of Theft, Exploitation, and Dispossession in America was released on Wednesday, April 24, and retails for $35 through the University of Chicago Press.

RELATED CONTENT: Calls For France To Repay Haitian ‘Freedom Tax’ Grow Louder