MONROE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – “Yes, I have proof. It’s not a fairy tale. It’s nothing made up.”

It’s not a place for fairy tales, and sometimes the endings in a courtroom aren’t happy. But, on the top floor of the old Union County courthouse in Monroe, the unexpected happened.

“I had come to the conclusion that the only answer is love,” said Gene Stowe. “That this, is a love story.”

Around 100 years later, evidence was found proving that what took place in the courthouse defied time and expectations.

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“It’s unheard of,” said Rachel Massey.

Rachel’s family helped start the historic Marvin AME Zion Church in Marvin, North Carolina. The historic African American church has her family members buried on all sides.

But this story is about all kinds of families, some by birth and others formed by choice.

“She was my great, great grandmother,” said Rachel.

Mittie Bell Ross Houston is Rachel’s great, great-grandmother. In 1921, 33-year-old Mittie Bell was sitting in the courtroom in Monroe.

“They said she was crazy,” said Rachel. “That the Black people had brainwashed her.”

The woman who raised Mittie Bell, Maggie Ross, had just passed away. Maggie had left Mittie Bell and her dad, Bob, 800 acres of land. However, many people teamed up to fight Maggie’s will.

“More than 100 cousins sued to break the will, because they said, if these women left their land to Black people, they were therefore incompetent to make a will,” said Gene, journalist, and author.

The court case inspired 30 years of research and a book called, “Inherit the Land: Jim Crow meets Miss Maggie’s Will.” To this day, Gene said, he’s still amazed at the story of how one of the richest white women in Union County willed her land to her chosen family, who happened to be African American.

“The first sentence I wrote about this story was ‘A rare love rooted a freed slaves’ children in Marvin more than 100 years ago,’” remembered Gene.

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It’s at that same courthouse, where evidence used during the trial was just found by Linda Vert.

“That particular photograph was labeled a different name,” said Linda.

Linda was cataloging some old boxes when she noticed a photograph that didn’t fit. Gene happened to be there and recognized what it was right away.

“He said, how did you find that,” remembered Linda. “We just all went berserk at the same time when we realized what we had.”

A rare and important picture.

Taken in the late 1800s.

Capturing Maggie, her sister, and Mittie Bell. The three of them, and two others, standing together, as a family, in front of their house.

“She has a picture,” said Rachel. “She was fortunate that the white women have a photo we can see.”

By 1924, the case had been tried twice. Both times, two all-white juries upheld Maggie’s Will.

“We can come and say the story is true, it’s not made up. I can show you that my family still live on the land,” said Rachel.

There are all kinds of stories. Some are sad, some are triumphant. But Mittie Bell’s and Miss Maggie’s is one of love.

Over the years, the family either sold most of the land or lost it. Rachel said, when it was willed to them back in the 20s, the Jim Crow era was still going on. So, it was difficult to get paid fair wages for the crops grown on the land. Then, the Great Depression, World War II, and many other challenges came. Rachel said record keeping was so poor, that some of the land just disappeared because the only marker of it was a ‘rock’ or ‘large tree.’

However, some of her family still live on the land. She said, it’s part of their legacy and will always be an important story that needs to be told, now more than ever.