This past year I had the opportunity to join an extraordinary team from across America to try something I’d always wanted to do. Audio Storytelling! Over the course of a year, our team produced a ten-part podcast miniseries called Plot of Land. A project of the Philly-based non-profit Monument Lab, Plot of Land explores how land ownership and housing in the United States have been shaped by the entrenched interplay of power, public memory, and privatization. I couldn’t be prouder of stories we tell. Fingers crossed for season 2!
Links below for episodes I reported and/or produced.
THEY’RE TRYING TO LURE HOMEOWNERS TO SELL
Have you ever seen billboards on the highway offering cash for houses? Has a stranger called you offering money for your home sight unseen? In Plot of Land’s second episode, we wade into the world of housing speculation, considering how private equity markets and real estate investment trusts have transformed the places we literally call home. How did housing become such a profitable market? And so volatile that it could lead to the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression?
We attend the 61st annual Boley Rodeo in Oklahoma. Once the largest and wealthiest Black town in Oklahoma, Boley was founded by Creek Freedmen and African Americans escaping Jim Crow violence and disenfranchisement. We meet the Bradford family, whose G-Line ranch is indicative of the broader struggle of Black farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma and across the country.
WE’RE OUT HERE AT OUR HOMELAND
We’re back in Boley, at the Bradford family ranch. At one point Oklahoma had 50 Black townships and 1.5 million acres of Black-owned farmland. Today only 13 Black towns survive and the majority of Black farmers have retired or lost their land, discouraged–and broke–from an industry plagued by racist lending practices. What can Boley’s rise and more recent decline teach us about how biased policies have shaped who gets to own what land?
We learn the incredible story of Sedonia Dennis, a woman once enslaved in Louisiana, who came to own a piece of the plantation that had once claimed ownership of her family. And we explore how, over time, the plantation economy gave way to the petrochemical industry. Join us as we spend time with Sedonia Dennis’s descendant, Jazzy Miller who is documenting her family’s fight to exist at the intersection of each of these forms of extraction.
We return to Louisiana and the Joneses, where in recent decades family members have moved away for work and to escape the increasingly toxic air and water leaking from the neighboring chemical plants of Cancer Alley. As stronger hurricanes and vanishing wetlands reconfigure Louisiana and new industries threaten to repeat old patterns, what will this mean for the future of Jonesland? What can their story on the front-lines of climate change teach us as the nation faces the dire consequences of extractive economies?
WE HAVE TO BE CREATIVE AS HELL
Concluding the Plot of Land series, we look at the work being done across the United States to repair our relationship with the land, from the Tongva conservancy in Los Angeles to the Sea Islands of South Carolina. What will it take to imagine a radically different future? With the stakes rising along with the temperature, what is the scale of change we need to shift power and build a more just world?