The Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Legislation that has passed the House and is pending in the Senate would make it easier to remove racist language from Mississippi property deeds.

State Rep. Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville, who also is an attorney, said he authored the legislation after representing clients who were purchasing some land in Pearl River County, when, through his research, he discovered old language in the deed prohibiting African Americans from owning or living on the land.

“I told them the language was not enforceable,” said Owen, who said the African American family still felt uncomfortable having the language in the deed for their property.

Owen said he decided to introduce the bill to make it inexpensive for families in similar circumstances to remove the racist language.

“People take great respect in the property they own,” Owen said. “It means something to them.

“This is just a simplified way for people to show the property they own was once held by individuals who believed they should not own it because of their skin color. It shows that has been removed from the chain of title by the property owner.”

Owen said people purchase property and want to pass it on to their children and such discriminatory language makes them uncomfortable. Owen said his clients who led to his introduction of the legislation expressed the desire to remain unnamed.

In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled such language as discriminatory and unconstitutional, making those deeds unenforceable. Federal laws have been passed to fortify the Supreme Court ruling.

During earlier debate on the House floor, Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie, and others questioned why the bill was needed since the language is unenforceable. Boyd questioned whether it was “a lawyer’s bill,” giving attorneys an opportunity to make money.

Owen said under current law it takes an attorney to file the motion in chancery court to remove the language, making the process costly. Under his bill, an attorney would not be needed. The landowner could simply fill out a form that is in the bill and a chancellor could sign off on the form without holding a hearing.

Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, who is an attorney and member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he thought it would be good to provide a simple mechanism to remove the language.

“I have run across similar language, and I just did not bring it forward,” Clark said. “It is unenforceable. But I could see where real estate attorneys who wanted to be safe would feel they are obligated to” not remove the language from the deed on their own.

Clark voted for the measure. A similar measure passed in Texas.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.