Black History Moment: The Charles & Polly Ann Hicks Preserve of Georgia

by Feb 20, 2021Blog0 comments

Over the last several days, we’ve identified several examples of Black families that could trace their lineage back to at least one common ancestor.  Each of those examples ranging from the Clotilda ship descendants of Africatown in Mobile, to the Syphax family’s former claim to post-Civil War era Freedman’s Village turned current-day Arlington National Cemetery, contain a common thread – REAL ESTATE.
Keeping our focus on African American families, real estate has served as a key vehicle (maybe the only vehicle?) in preserving and perpetuating family history and legacy.   However, five factors have historically impeded the ability of African American families to use real estate to grow, maintain, and pass down their wealth & legacies: 1) race-based housing covenants, 2) contract buying/selling, 3) property tax sales, 4) redevelopment/gentrification, and 5) heirs’ property.  Therefore, today’s black history moment will highlight a Black family from Georgia, as an introduction to one of the five factors mentioned in the previous sentence.
The Charles & Polly Ann Hicks Preserve – Key Highlights
* Charles Hicks (1838-1941): born in GA under system of slavery, Civil War vet, and in 1900, married a woman named Polly Ann (1883-1974).
* In 1932, the Hicks couple purchased 10 acres of land in which a portion of it was used to build a church, a cemetery, and to build the first school for African American children in their local area.  Taken together, these elements make up the Hicks estate, or the “Charles & Polly Ann Hicks Preserve.”
* After Charles Hicks death in 1941, Polly Ann Hicks held the Hicks Preserve property until her death in 1974.
* In 1975, all land (except the church & cemetery), was subdivided into six parcels and awarded to six of Polly Ann’s surviving children.   In addition, the church and cemetery properties were left without a legal person or business entity as the owner of record.
* Because of the 1975 arrangement, the concept of heirs’ property was introduced to The Charles & Polly Ann Hicks Preserve.
* Heirs’ property is defined as “a home or parcel of land that passes from generation to generation without a legally designated owner, resulting in ownership divided among all living descendants in a family.”  Simply put, heirs’ property is an informal way to pass down family-owned real estate, from generation to generation.
The Charles & Polly Ann Hicks Preserve – Significance/Legacy
* Due to legal and emotional issues inherent with heirs’ property in general, the Hicks descendants’ risk losing their entire family history & legacy that’s contained within the Charles & Polly Ann Hicks Preserve
Visit the websites below and/or conduct your own research to learn more about The Charles & Polly Ann Hicks Preserve, and the concept of heirs’ property:
WSAV-TV news article (w/ video): “Family members of a former slave are working to preserve his legacy”
The Hicks Preserve Initiative Overview
Heirs Property – Georgia Heirs Property Law Center