Jones family wants to reclaim land where UAH building resides
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Strong allegations are being leveled against the city of Huntsville.
The allegations are coming from a family in Huntsville who claim decades ago, the city of Huntsville and officials systematically stole the land their family once owned. They believe a wrong done decades ago, needs to be made right.
At issue, about 10 acres sat along Athens Pike, now known as Holmes Avenue. The five surviving Jones siblings say that land had been in the family since the 1870s.
Now that piece of land is home to the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s business administration building.
“During the time that we were living on the land, we weren’t rich but we had everything that we needed in life,” said J.T. Jones. “Local Governments condemned the well that we had on the land, saying that it wasn’t fit for human consumption.”
“We had it and then we didn’t have it and that is very painful to me,” added Brenda Jones.
Kamala Miller-Lester is the lead researcher for Where is My Land, a grassroots organization that helps families and descendants reclaim stolen land through advocacy. She has been working with the Jones family for a little over a year.
“Their father was actually offered money to purchase the small parcel where the well was however, that well was the only water source for their home and it had been in the family for almost a century. And he turned down that offer. The well was condemned around 1958. All of a sudden there was a pump house built in the same location. The city had traced a clean water source to the area near the well. Rather than get permission to dig under the wall to tap into that source, they instead condemned the entire property and forced the family to move off of it,” explained Miller-Lester. More than 300 Probate Court Records weave a vast web of what happened to the Jones family land.
Court documents from 1954 show the city was unable to acquire the property and well, so it proceeded with condemning it for a water source. At a 1954 condemnation court hearing, multiple interested parties are present including their father, Willie Jones. No one objected to the condemnation process.
A month later, the Probate Court awards damages and compensation of $900 for the property and well to be split among Willie Jones and his siblings. Willie Jones later appealed that ruling. However, the well is condemned anyway.
Miller-Lester says at that point, word starts to spread through the community that a University is moving into town and offering money to landowners.
More than 150 people came forward, claiming to be descendants with rights to the land. Even court documents state “It appears that the titles to said tracts of land are so clouded and uncertain that condemnation of same shall be necessary in order to acquire clear title.”
UAH provided documents where it appears to show in 1958 Willie Jones and his wife, Lola, signed the deed over to their land to W.L. Sanderson, at the time, the chief of the Huntsville Land Acquisition Office.
Miller-Lester and the Jones siblings say the documents were forged because Willie Jones could not read or write. Years prior in court records, Willie Jones signed his name with an “X” and had a witness present. The Jones siblings even hired a forensic handwriting expert who determined the signatures were “Not Genuine.”
”He didn’t know with his third-grade education, what was going on,” said Michael Jones.
Eventually, the sum of $25,000 is awarded with claimants receiving their cut of $1,250. However, Willie Jones never received his payout.
”This is where I feel like that the process of condemning the Jones land was really, it was methodical, and it was almost conspiratorial in nature,” added Miller-Lester.
However, the legal hurdle for the Jones’ is high and that legislative action may be necessary.
”The statute of limitations, in my opinion, and in the opinion of our organization should not apply in situations where there are cover-ups, where there are missing documents,” said Miller-Lester.
UAH has declined to comment and said Where is my Land has not approached them on the matter. The same goes for the City of Huntsville. As for the Jones siblings, they want to be compensated and more.
”You can’t put a price on historical land since 1870, we want our kids and grandkids to be able to go to school at that college,” added Michael Jones.
Just last year, ‘Where Is My Land’ was instrumental in the landmark ruling returning Bruce’s Beach to its descendants in California for $20 million dollars. It was an oceanfront property that was seized by the city in the 1920s.
The effort to reclaim the Jones family land has already garnered more than 4,000 signatures on an online petition https://www.change.org/p/help-the-jones-family-of-huntsville-alabama-get-back-their-land
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