Sapelo Island, off the coast of Georgia, are home of the Geechee, direct descendants of West Africans originally brought to the US as slaves to help build the nation’s economy. After years of oppression the Geechee (also known as Gullah) finally won back their land, but wealthy investors and banks now dispute Geechee ownership and threaten to reclaim possession of Geechee land. “In just one year,” Imara Jones reports, “taxes have leapt for many cash-strapped residents by a whopping 500 percent. The sky-high tax bills could accomplish what others have been unable to do so far: clear the island of the Geechee through the legal dispossession of their property.” The Geechee are essentially being pushed from the land that their forefathers grew rice on hundreds of years ago.
Geechee land is prime property for tourist hotels and big vacation homes. The Hilton Head Island luxury resort in South Carolina was mostly Gullah-inhabited only fifty years ago.
Sapelo Island dispossession exemplifies the larger problem of modern land-taking from people of color around the world. Elsewhere in the US, four out of ten of the nearly ten million people who’ve been foreclosed are black or Latino. They have effectively been swindled out of home owning. “Wall Street is spending billions of dollars to buy these foreclosed homes and rent them back to the very people from whom they took them,” making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Imara Jones, “On Sapelo Island, Another Case in How Black Exploitation Fuels Wealth,”
Color Lines, October 1, 2012. http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/10/on_sapelo_island_another_case_study_in_how_black_exploitation_fuels_wealth.html
Student Researcher: Marc Robinson, College of Marin
Faculty Advisor: Susan Rahman, College of Marin