Sapelo Island's historic Black community risks land dispossession
The historic Gullah-Geechee community on Sapelo Island, Georgia, faces potential displacement as county commissioners vote to remove zoning restrictions.
For over two centuries, the Gullah-Geechee community has thrived on Sapelo Island, a secluded paradise off the coast of Georgia. Hogg Hammock, a 427-acre coastal enclave on the island, has been the ancestral home to descendants of enslaved people, housing 40 residents.
This historic community earned its designation as a protected site in 1996, safeguarding it from large-scale development, house constructions exceeding 1,400 sq ft, and property demolitions.
However, a recent decision by the McIntosh County commissioners has sent shockwaves through Hogg Hammock and raised concerns among its Gullah-Geechee residents.
On Tuesday, county officials voted to dismantle zoning restrictions in Hogg Hammock, allowing for potential alterations to the island's character and landscape.
The move has sparked fears that affluent newcomers seeking larger homes may drive property tax hikes, ultimately displacing the long-standing residents and jeopardizing their way of life.
With the county's population being 65% white, the vote called for the removal of language recognizing Hogg Hammock's unique historical significance and the language that states it should prevent "land value increases which could force removal of the indigenous population."
This vote marks the latest chapter in a contentious history between county officials and the island's small, historic Black community.
Last Thursday, dozens of residents presented hours of testimony to the county's zoning board, vehemently opposing the proposed changes. They argued that the county had made hasty decisions without sufficient community input. Reginal Hall, a landowner with deep roots in Hogg Hammock, expressed concern that the county's approval would lead to "the erasure of a historical culture that's still intact after 230 years."
Hall cautioned that the county's decision to lift development restrictions could give Gullah-Geechee residents in Hogg Hammock as little as "two to three years at most" to survive in the county before dispersing elsewhere, mirroring the fate of the 200,000 Gullah-Geechee people who have already left the southeastern United States.