A Vanishing History: Gullah Geechee Nation

On the Sea Islands along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, a painful chapter of American history is playing out again. These islands are home to the Gullah or Geechee people, the descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to work at the plantations that once ran down the southern Atlantic coast. After the Civil War, many former slaves on the Sea Islands bought portions of the land where their descendants have lived and farmed for generations. That property, much of it undeveloped waterfront land, is now some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

But the Gullah are now discovering that land ownership on the Sea Islands isn’t quite what it seemed. Local landowners are struggling to hold on to their ancestral land as resort developers with deep pockets exploit obscure legal loopholes to force the property into court-mandated auctions. These tactics have successfully fueled a tourism boom that now attracts more than 2 million visitors a year. Gullah communities have all but disappeared, replaced by upscale resorts and opulent gated developments that new locals — golfers, tourists, and mostly white retirees — fondly call “plantations.”

Faced with an epic case of déjà vu, the Gullah are scrambling for solutions as their livelihood and culture vanish, one waterfront mansion at a time.

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31 thoughts on “A Vanishing History: Gullah Geechee Nation

  1. Damn this story hurts my soul. This is South Carolina marshland we're talking about. If nothing else, maintaining marshland is good for the environment. Leave them alone and let them preserve this slice of culture that is unique in all the world. This is literally the same dynamic that pushed Native Americans off of the original reservations. I hate the whole coon thing, but it really applies here. Not every speck of land needs to be industrialized and turned into cookie cutter developments. I didn't even know this kind of communal property ownership existed in the US aside from some hippy communes in California, preserve it for that alone!

  2. The first thing you have to do is build a massive fence the way farmers do. That way bull
    dozers know Keep Out! They don't respect anyone especially black who lives on open land. You have realtors who are selling your land right under your feet. You have to build fences, lots of them to maintain your culture.

  3. Wow! These are definitely our ancestors. We share similar cultural backgrounds. We call property that is passed down to thru the generations is actually called "Generational Property" in the Bahamas. This land cannot be sold to outsiders unless agreed upon by the all family members that own their generation's property.

  4. I wonder if it would be possible to set up a foundation of some kind, which could then look for grants, and be able to slowly buy out anyone who wanted to sell their land shares? And another thing it could do would be crowdfunding (e.g., IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, GoFundMe, etc., something would need to be figured out with that would meet those sites' terms of service in each case — maybe local musicians could record albums? I know this will need a LOT of money, but it might make some difference, at least). The community will need a very good lawyer to be sure that such a foundation would be organized on THEIR terms as much as feasible under the law, and that they would control the foundation. If a board game can raise over $12,000,000 then something this important I would hope would get more!

  5. History repating itself blacks selling out other blacks. At least all of them aren't blindly and solely blaming the white boogy man for all their problems. I've got alot of respect for their attempt at holding onto their heritage.

  6. I found out I was part Gullah Geechee. One of my great-grandfathers was from the South Carolina sea Islands. It's a damn shame what's happening to their culture.

  7. I live here!! Come everyone to visit. We have 2 festivals one inMay and one in November called Heritage Days. We're well aware of white folks stealing land. Well aware of their trickery!

  8. I hate golf. Patton said golf is a Perfect way to ruin a walk through the park. My Father was of that persuasion, he loved his wife and adored his 3
    sons, we didn't lose him to golf, country club, poker game, the tavern… He was home with us on the weekends… He passed in 2002 at 80, combat decorated WWII veteran, hospital administrator, and the Finest man to ever walk the face of the earth.. And married the best gal on earth, l miss them both.
    Miss you Mom & Dad.
    Thank You.

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