Thirty-plus African-American families, who owned land on Bailey Station Road in Collierville, celebrated the sale of the property to an independent hardware distributor, Orgill, Inc., on Sunday (April 30).
For 23 years, the band of small farmers staved off a ruling of eminent domain in pursuit of a fair market value sale.
The land had been in their families for over 100 years. The multi-million-dollar sale of 48 acres was negotiated with the goal of impacting generations to come.
With that backdrop, Sunday’s afternoon celebration was anchored at 4005 Bailey Station Road. There was a short program, with a balloon release in honor of their ancestors.
Many of the elders who began the families’ journey have passed away, including John “Bubba” Brown, a retired MLGW lineman, who has been described as “a tenacious leader … determined to fight to keep their land until it was bought for its true value.”
On hand was Brown’s brother, Thomas Brown, also a landowner and the current president of the Bailey Station Association II, LLC. He was joined by Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner and Vanecia Belser Kimbrow, Esq., the attorney who represented the group and their families pro bono for the 23-year journey.
Kimbrow guided the group through a threatened public taking by the Town of Collierville during a time when public takings were all too common, and Cordova farmers had recently lost their land to make way for the Wolfchase Mall. She halted the public takeover in 2000 by having the individual farmers invest their land in a cooperative association.
Throughout the years, various entities tried to purchase the land with offers that the families didn’t consider to reflect its value. In April of 2023, Kimbrow finalized negotiations for the multi-million-dollar sale of the group’s 48 acres to Orgill, Inc.
Kimbrow first learned of the group’s plight while watching a Saturday morning episode of WKNO’s “Small Business Review,” hosted by Earnest Lacey. She reached John Brown through Lacey and, with the blessing of her then-boss, attorney Kevin Bruce, she took of the group’s cause.
“I became an attorney because I wanted to help people. When I saw the WKNO special with John Brown, I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t sit idly by and watch these wonderful families lose their land without proper compensation, especially to organizations that have access to millions of dollars. It’s wrong and unjust,” said Kimbrow.
“I was a spirited young attorney back then, and I thank the landowners for trusting me. I had no idea it would take this long, but the journey is finally over. These families deserve this happy conclusion, and I count this as one of the greatest accomplishments of my career.”
Thomas Brown said the families are grateful to Kimbrow for “fighting with us all these years. Our ancestors worked hard to acquire this land, farm this land, and raise their families on this land. There was no way we could let anybody just take it from us or sell it for less than what was fair.
“I encourage other landowners who find themselves in this situation to do the same. Twenty-three years is a long time, and we’re going to celebrate this accomplishment and celebrate our ancestors. I know they’re proud of us.”
Reflecting on the families’ bonds, Brown recounts that, “If you needed flour, sugar or anything, you (could) go next door. We’re going to miss it but we have been blessed by this village.
“And like I say all the time, like Yogi Bear said, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings and the fat lady done tuned up and she singing today.”
(William Weeks contributed to this story.)