For Inquiries, Please Contact-
Tamiko Overton Parks, Communications Lead


TUESDAY, December 13, 2022 – Where Is My Land (WIML), is amplifying state legislation and judicial collusion in supporting the doctrine of white supremacy to take Black families’ land.

This is a story about a man and his commitment to his family. Eli Keen, Jr. (a white man) purchased both Phoebe (a Black woman) and her daughter, Martha (around 3 years old at the time) from his father’s estate. What no one knew was that Phoebe and Eli, Jr. were in love and committed to each other. In 1850 Eli “purchased” Phoebe and her daughter and until approximately 1885, Eli and Phoebe lived together in the same house as husband and wife and had eight more children together. The couple was legally prohibited from marrying because of Missouri’s anti-miscegenation laws, which prohibited interracial marriage. However, they referred to each other as “husband” and “wife.” The children referred to Eli as “pa,” and to Phoebe as “ma” in the presence of anyone in the vicinity, and without objection from Phoebe or Eli.

In August 1883, Eli married his second cousin, Sophronia Keen. She never lived with Eli during their marriage and they only visited each other once or twice a year. Sophronia eventually claimed, under oath, that at the time of her marriage, and up to a few months before Eli’s death, she didn’t know about Phoebe or the children.

Keen in his Will, unequivocally recognized the children as his own, and left all the property he owned in Missouri to them. He left all the property he owned in West Virginia to Sophronia. Eli Keen, Jr.’s Will specified that Sophronia would forfeit her inheritance if she challenged the will.

Sophronia ignored Keen’s Will’s instructions, and on April 1, 1901, asked the St. Charles Court to reject the Will and give her one-half of Keen’s estate as though he had no children. Later, Sophronia asked the St. Charles Court to recover property that had already been distributed to the Keen children. The Circuit Court Judge granted Sophronia’s request to renounce the Will. It ignored the provisions of the Will that stated if she challenged it, she would forfeit any bequests to her. Eli and Phoebe were legally prohibited from marrying. As a result, their children were born “out of wedlock,” so the Judge ruled the children were “illegitimate offspring” who could not inherit under Missouri law.

Supported by racist laws, Sophronia managed to get over 1,000 acres of property Eli Keen, Jr. left to his children, including land he had already given them before he died! The generational wealth and benefits of land ownership were forever lost.

“This orchestrated misfortune made possible by consciously hostile state statutes toward Negroes was successful in destroying 50 plus years – the entire Keen family’s generation of work,” stated a family representative. Per an Economist, following the language of the will, the total estate with growth and development from 1900 to the present day, “represents a dollar loss to the family in the tens of millions of dollars.”