Don’t Tax Georgia’s Geechee Island Community Out of Existence

sapelo island

Target: Chris Harper, Chair of Darien-McIntosh Chamber of Commerce

Goal: Ask that the Darien-McIntosh Chamber of Commerce repeal a new property tax that threatens a small, poor island community living off the coast of Georgia

Sapelo Island, located in McIntosh County, Georgia, has recently seen an exponential increase in property taxes. While a tax hike in tough economic times may not be uncommon, this particular tax will have a devastating effect on the poor local Gullah community, Creole-speaking descendants of freed African-American slaves. Although county officials claim the new taxes are a way to correct questionable policies that kept taxes artificially low in the past, a history of racial discrimination charges and land infringement calls those claims into question. McIntosh County Officials must reevaluate this new tax and protect the Gullah community.

Sapelo Island’s Gullah community, also called Geechees, consists of 50 or so people. These saltwater Geechees are a part of one of the most fragile cultures in America even though they’ve lived along the southeast coast for over two centuries. Ever since the tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds Jr. bought land on the island, the Geechees have constantly faced pressure to abandon their homes. While the Gullah community muddles along in swampy Hog Hammock—a place consisting of a smattering of homes, a cemetery, a general store and a part-time restaurant—the state owns the other 97 percent of the island, using it for nature preserves, marine research projects, and eco-tourism. And while Sapelo Island hasn’t yet become the vacation destination that nearby Hilton Head and St. Simons Islands have, that prospect always looms in the background as well.

Within the Gullah community, much land has been passed down or sold at below-market rates from one relative to another. As a result, this excess property may wind up costing a Sapelo Island inhabitant over 500 percent more in taxes this year compared to last. And while the taxes have paid off in McIntosh County in the form of new services such as garbage pickup, such amenities have yet to appear on Sapelo Island. This questionable string of events points to a thinly veiled effort to force the few remaining Geechees off their land in favor of new development.

Ask that the McIntosh County officials protect the Gullah Geechee culture and stop this new tax’s destructive effects.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Chairman Harper,

The recent property tax increase in McIntosh County has had a devastating effect on the Gullah community of Sapelo Island, Creole-speaking descendants of freed African-American slaves. This community has seen property taxes increase over 500 percent in the last year, and without any growth to their economy, they hardly have the means with which to pay.

Sapelo Island has a history of land infringement and racial discrimination. I am afraid that these taxes may just be the latest chapter in this ongoing saga. As the state of Georgia already owns 97 percent of Sapelo Island, I ask that you ensure that what little land has been left to the saltwater Geechees remains in their possession, and that action is taken to protect and promote their culture

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: RichardGlenSailors via Flickr

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