Two days before Christmas, Roosevelt Collins, a 49-year-old tenant farmer in southern Prince George's County, received a letter saying that he and his family would have to vacate their home by Feb. 1.
The letter was signed by Dr. Edward C. Mazique, a Washington physician, who owns the house and the acreage on which Collins has farmed tobacco for more than 25 years.
Barely a month before he received his eviction notice, Collins was featured in a Washington Post article that described the extreme poverty in which the Collins family and other Prince George's sharecroppers live.
The article reported how many of the sharecroppers families - including the Collinses - live in ramshackle wooden structures with broken windows and no plumbing or heat. The Collinses earn about $600 a year farming the 54-acre Mazique tract near Cedarville and split their profits with Dr. Mazique.
Because the potentially valuable land is still technically farmed, Dr. Mazique pays only a third as much in county property taxes as he would pay if the land were not farmed.
"I don't care to be cast in alight that they (the Collinses) are being taken advantaged of," Dr. Mazique said in an interview when asked why he was forcing the family to leave. "If welfare wants them, then welfare can have them. And if Georgia is what he (Collins) wants, then this opens the road."
"Am I my brother's keeper?" he asked rhetorically in response to another question about the fate of the Collinses.
Prince George's gives a significant tax break to the owners of land used for agriculture. In Mazique's base, the differentials is between as assessment of $15,000 and one of nearly $45,000.
The monthly income from the tobacco and occasional labor by Collins and his wife is about $70. Like most of the low-income south-county people, they received no public assistance food stamps.
"I have done many things for the family," Dr.Mozique said. "They have lived rent-free on the property."
Recently the Collins family was discovered by Charles Elliott, head of Family Service of Prince George's, Inc, a private group that helps families obtain public assistance when necessary.
Elliott helped the family qualify for public assistance and helped obtain Social Security disability payments for the couple's 20-year-old mentally disturbed son.
But public assistance ended abruptly last month when the payments - which doubled their monthly income of about $70 from farming and odd jobs - were cut off by the country Department of Social Services after a review.
"The main thing now," Elliott said, "is to get Roosevelt Collins a job so he can find shelter for his family." Elliott said they are trying to find a night watchman's job for Collins so that he can be at home with his epileptic wife during the day.
The family of six is also looking for a new home, Elliott said.
In the December letter to the Collins family, Dr. Mazique wrote, "Plans are now being made for major renovations in the premises that you now occupy. These changes cannot be safely done while the house is occupied. Upon completion of renovations, a different use is planned for the facility." It would not be possible for the Collins family to live there, he said.
In a telephone interview this week, Dr. Mazique said he had not yet planned a use for the two-story houses or property.