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Fort-Worth Based Property Law Scholar Thomas Wilson Mitchell Wins 2020 MacArthur 'Genius' Grant

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

A Fort Worth-based property law scholar is among this year's winners of the "Genius" grant fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The group cited Thomas Wilson Mitchell's work on reforming long-standing legal doctrines that deprive Black Americans of their real estate wealth. He talked about his work in a video produced by the MacArthur Foundation.

"There have been a variety of legal mechanisms that have been used to displace African-Americans from their land,” he said. “We are essentially still experiencing this current vestige of Jim Crow. I thought it was important to establish the law could actually work for these families.”

In a phone interview, Mitchell said the $625,000 award will go towards creating a stable future for the Fort Worth-based law program he currently leads for real estate and community development.

"In a more systematic way, we can look at a variety of legal problems various disadvantaged communities have," he said. "Communities that disproportionately consist of people of color and think of really systematically, in a way that is sustainable that would then have a chance of having even greater impact of what I've done up to this point."

Mitchell, 55, served as the principal drafter of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA), which would implement reforms protecting families from the involuntary overtaking of their real estate. The UPHPA has been enacted into law in many states and there are continued efforts to put it into law across the nation.

Mitchell formerly received a B.A. from Amherst College, a J.D. from Howard University School of Law and an LLM from the University of Wisconsin Law School where he served as a William H. Hastie Fellow.

He became a faculty member at Texas A&M University in 2016, where he is currently a professor at the School of Law and co-director of the Program in Real Estate and Community Development Law.

The MacArthur Fellowships are awarded annually to people who, "show exceptional creativity in their work."

Mitchell’s fellow 2020 award winners include Houston-based fiction writer Cristina Rivera Garza, a playwright, evolutionary geneticist, environmental health advocate and singer and composer.

Galilee Abdullah is an arts reporter.
Ana Perez is a KERA News producer and the intern coordinator for the station.
Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.