Photo of Mason Gates

Mason Gates

  • Hosted by Legal Aid of Arkansas
  • Sponsored by Latham & Watkins LLP
  • Service location West Memphis, Arkansas
  • Law school University of Arkansas School of Law
  • Issue area Economic Justice, Housing - Affordable Housing/Microfinance
  • Fellowship class year 2022
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

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

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