Keen v. Keen: All That Father Giveth

    Revisits a 1904 Missouri Supreme Court decision about a contested will that stole inherited farmland and the economic livelihood from black farm families in West Alton, MO. In his will, Eli Keen, a white man, bequeathed property to his biracial children from a thirty-year relationship with his father’s former slave, Phoebe. Later in his life, Eli marries Sophronia, a white woman. After his death, Sophronia claims the rights to the land. The case eventually proceeds to the U.S. Supreme Court, however it is remanded back to the lower court to let the decision stand: The children are deemed illegitimate because of their mother’s race, and could not inherit the property their father had left for his “beloved” children.

    Jeff Heinle, Producer:  I first heard this story from Nina Smith when she was a graduate student in my documentary research class.  I thought that this was an important because it serves as another historical example of how of racial economic injustice was carried out in the United States after slavery and normalized by the U.S. Court System.  I thought Nina’s family story might provide yet another insight on why racial issues still persist in our country and that stories like this should be included in our on-going cultural dialogue on race.  I would like to thank Nina and her family for sharing their family history with me (and us) so we can get a deeper understanding of our collective past.