Mason Gates

The Project

Mason works to stop Black land loss and create generational wealth in the Mississippi Delta by resolving heirs’ property, educating communities, and connecting landowners with funding opportunities.

Black families have lost an estimated 15 million acres of agricultural land over the last century. This land is often lost to speculators who use the courts to force the sale of the property using a fractionated form of ownership called heirs’ property. Heirs’ property occurs when land is passed through generations without a proper will. The absence of a will clouds title, limiting what can be done on the property and blocking access to private and government funds. Even when the land is not lost, it is still underdeveloped and experiences substantial economic waste. Based on conservative estimates, at least 60% of Black agricultural land is still owned as heirs’ property, which contributes substantially to the racial wealth gap.

The rich farmland in Arkansas’s Mississippi Delta has been a prime target for Black land loss leaving the area’s Black population to bear the brunt of the region’s high poverty rates. New legislation—the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act—created a path to clear title and help families build generational wealth using their land. However, this solution requires lawyers and other professionals. The region’s poverty has left it with a severe lawyer shortage, keeping the legal aid out of reach for those who need it most.

Fellowship Plans

Mason’s Fellowship will provide direct legal services to heirs’ property clients in the Mississippi Delta. He will help clear title on land and write wills for underrepresented communities to stop additional heirs’ property from being created. Mason will focus on community education and help families access federal and private funds and monetize their property. Additionally, he will seek funding to establish a permanent heirs’ property program in Arkansas to bring additional lawyers to the Mississippi Delta to help revitalize the area.

Media

Law Student Selected for 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellowship

Growing up poor on a small farm in rural Utah taught me the value of land from a young age. With that lesson in mind, I came to law school to become an effective advocate for racial and economic justice in my wife’s home state of Arkansas.

Mason Gates /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Trevin R. Ware is an Equal Justice Works Fellow serving in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps (DRLC) to provide civil legal services and advocacy to individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Harris County. More specifically, Trevin is assisting individuals with protecting and preserving their property and parental rights, securing benefits, and ensuring that they have free and unencumbered access to the courts.

Trevin has an enduring passion for assisting impoverished individuals and families, as demonstrated by his dedication to public interest advocacy and lawyering. Prior to accepting this opportunity, he worked and volunteered with Legal Aid of Arkansas and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas.

Media

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy of Service

I believe this work is both fulfilling and necessary to protect and/or restore the integrity of our justice system.

Trevin R. Ware /
Disaster Recovery Legal Corps Fellow

The Project

Katherine provided legal help with re-entry into state and communities in NW Arkansas, by sealing and removing barriers to employment, housing, transportation, and licensing.

 

Successful re-entry is important for all of us so that we allow those that have completed their punishment terms to obtain meaningful work, obtain housing, and contribute positively to our society.

Katherine (Shea) Crosby /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jason will address housing discrimination in Arkansas by providing direct representation, educating tenants, establishing and training a network of training advocates, and developing potential impact litigation.

Tenants in Arkansas are afforded few enforcement mechanisms to assert their fair housing rights. Arkansas is one of only two states that lack a private fair housing program to provide tenants with legal representation in state or federal administrative hearings or in court proceedings. As a result, many low-income tenants attempting to assert their fair housing rights must proceed on a pro se basis during the administrative process. This project will work to remedy the dearth of legal services available to low-income tenants in Arkansas who are facing housing discrimination.