Gullah-Geechee Wants a Voice | God's World News

Gullah-Geechee Wants a Voice

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    George Grovner wears a sticker reading “Keep Sapelo Geechee” during a meeting of McIntosh County commissioners on September 12, 2023, in Darien, Georgia. (AP/Ross Bynum)
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    Residents, landowners, and supporters of the Hogg Hummock community on Sapelo Island fill a courtroom on September 12, 2023, in Darien, Georgia. Gullah-Geechee residents hope to override zoning changes. (AP/Russ Bynum)
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    McIntosh County Commission Chairman David Stevens, left, speaks alongside fellow Commissioners Roger Lotson, center, and Kate Pontello Karwacki, right, at a September 12 meeting in Darien, Georgia. (AP/Russ Bynum)
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    A sticker celebrating Geechee heritage decorates a pickup truck on Sapelo Island, Georgia. (AP/David Goldman)
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    Ire Gene Grovner walks through remnants of old slave quarters at the Chocolate Plantation where his ancestors lived generations ago on Sapelo Island, Georgia. (AP/David Goldman)
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    Sapelo Island resident Kent Grovner fishes from a dock. (AP/David Goldman)
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Unconstitutional, null, and void. Lawyers use those words to describe a new Georgia zoning law. Hogg Hummock residents fear it will raise taxes in their small enclave. Worse, the law could destroy one of the nation’s last surviving Gullah-Geechee communities.

Since 1976, the state of Georgia has owned most of Sapelo Island, a largely unspoiled wilderness south of Savannah. Hogg Hummock occupies less than one square mile of the 30-square-mile island. It is home to a community whose ancestors were enslaved black Africans in the 1700-1800s.

In the South, this people group became known as Gullah. In Georgia, the term is Geechee. Gullah-Geechee communities dot the U.S. eastern coast from North Carolina to Florida. Gullah-Geechee people retained much of their African heritage—including a unique dialect and basket-weaving and cast-net fishing skills.

Today, about 30-50 Gullah-Geechees live in modest homes along dirt roads in Hogg Hummock. In recent years, some island locals sold land to folks outside their tight-knit community. Now some newer residents seek change in Hogg Hummock.

This past fall, McIntosh County commissioners voted to double the permitted house size in Hogg Hummock. Gullah-Geechee residents fear larger homes will prompt property tax increases they can’t afford. That’s because tax rates are generally calculated based on community averages and not just individual home sizes and conditions.

Commissioners claim the prior size limit was impossible to enforce. They also say it didn’t give homeowners enough room for guests to stay under one roof.

Lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit. It alleges county commissioners purposely targeted a mostly poor, black community to benefit wealthy, white land buyers and developers.

The lawyers say the new zoning law “discriminates against the historically and culturally important Gullah-Geechee community on Sapelo Island on the basis of race.” They claim discrimination should render the law “unconstitutional, null, and void.”

The lawsuit also alleges commissioners tried to keep Hogg Hummock residents from attending rezoning meetings. It claims officials didn’t give residents opportunity to speak before the county commissioners—the ones who cast the final vote.

County commissioner Roger Lotson voted against the rezoning. He calls the new standards “a giant step in the destruction of the culture of Hogg Hummock.”

Hogg Hummock residents hope to override the changes. To succeed, they will need many people outside their community to vote with them.

Lotson admits change “may be inevitable.” But he adds, “Let us not be the board that drives the nail in this coffin.”

Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause. — Proverbs 22:22-23

Why? Humans often desire to increase personal gain, no matter the harm to others. God wills that we treat others justly. That expectation is also the basis of U.S. law.

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