Over the past four hundred years government agencies and white settlers have seized as much as 1.5 billion acres of Native land in what is now the United States. In a more recent course of dispossession, since the peak of Black landownership in 1910, African Americans have lost ninety percent of their land holdings. Cumulatively, these patterns of removal and foreclosure have led to multi-generational losses of wealth and opportunity and the erasure of Black and Indigenous history from places where vibrant communities formerly thrived.
The Whose Land? Project explores histories of land loss, dispossession, and migration across New York and Wisconsin, two states with a unique connection. Between 1820 and 1870, thousands of First Nation members with ancestral homeland in the state of New York were forcibly removed to Wisconsin. In the same period, tens of thousands of Black and white abolitionists and farmers traveled from New York to Wisconsin to establish the Republican Party or follow the wheat boom. Remarkably, by 1850, one in two Wisconsinites was New York born.
James Levy and his collaborators will use the Fellowship to expand on the success of their Lands We Share project, which uncovered shared histories and claims to specific agricultural sites in Wisconsin and supported dialogue across cultural divides. Whose Land? will extend this work into a two-state community history and public dialogue project, starting with a series of community conversations that share and unpack ongoing local research. They will serve as the foundation for two public-facing undertakings: a podcast addressing how land has shaped race in America and an online oral history story map and website. As the initiative expands in future years, it will continue to revive shared stories of movement, settlement, and loss, fostering a shared understanding of land justice in the past and the future.