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Gullah-Geechee, Sapelo Island: Historic Slave Community Faces Tax Woes

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The tiny community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island in Georgia is one of the earliest freed slave settlements, and it is still home to descendants of the original owners. That may change though, as the Gullah-Geechee people in the Hog Hammock community are being forced to sell because of soaring property taxes. The owners aren’t giving up without a fight, though, and are making their story known.

Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island has a population of less than 50, and according to resident Cornelia Bailey, the people there receive no county services. This makes it difficult for the home and business owners in the community to understand why their property appraisals (and tax bills) are soaring. The community has no school, no police station and only one paved road to maintain.

Bailey’s tax bill went from around $800 in 2011 to nearly $3,000 last year. The appraisal on Bailey’s acre of land, which she and her husband have a home, a convenience store and a small inn on, went from $220,285 to $327,063.

“So what are we paying taxes for?” Bailey asked after the county denied her appeal on Monday. “We’re just paying for privilege of living on Sapelo Island. We don’t want to be crybabies, but it seems like we’re being treated unfairly.”

Do you think the people of Hog Hammock should be protected from increasing property taxes because of their history? Add your comments below.

According to Reed Colfax, the attorney for more than two dozen Hog Hammock landowners who have a housing discrimination complaint against McIntosh County, the appraisals violate a 1994 county ordinance that classifies Hog Hammock as a special zoning district.

This special zoning is supposed to prevent “land value increases which could force removal of the indigenous population,” Colfax said. Colfax also said, “They can’t afford it. They’re going to be forced off the island in direct contradiction to the ordinance.”

McIntosh County’s defense against the tax appraisal hike is that some of the Hog Hammock residents were selling. According to ABC6, several owners have sold their properties up to $165,500 for a half-acre. County appraisers say that the appraisals have increased because of market demands. “The values that we placed on their properties, we feel they still hold,” said property appraiser Blair McLinn. “Nothing, we felt, has changed.”

Other Sapelo Island residents are still waiting for their appeals to be heard, but it is likely that they won’t seek any relief on their tax bills. Robert Hudley, chairman of McIntosh County’s Board of Equalization that hears appeals, has told the people of Hog Hammock to appeal to the Superior Court. “This doesn’t need to stop here. It needs to go further,” Hudley said.

A Facebook has been started to raise awareness for the Hog Hammock reisdents, plus a petition has been started on MoveOn.org to stop the soaring tax bills.

Image via YouTube

Gullah-Geechee, Sapelo Island: Historic Slave Community Faces Tax Woes
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  • Anita Wills

    This is an attempt to force these people off of the only home they and their ancestors know. This is where their ancestors were taken during slavery and the land was a part of a settlement by the Government. Now the powers that be are attacking the remaining vestiges of slavery and forcing them off of their land. I would suggest they post a petition and also request donations to save their land.

  • Dove

    Leave these poor people along.

  • ella harrison

    When will it ever be enough? Forcing people from their homes so they can profit off of it.

  • victoria

    I have had the pleasure of meeting some of these dear Gullah people. They are part of our state’s living history and their way of life needs to be preserved!

  • gloria

    You should be ashamed! How do you people sleep at night. I am disgusted and appalled with the treatment and greed that your county taxes are forcing upon the unique and refreshingly tranquil and enviable residents of Sapelo Island
    what are they getting in return? Don’t usually comment on issues, but this is outrageous.. And injustice.
    So disturbing!!!

  • Julie

    I just saw this on CNN and am absolutely appalled. This is a vibrant and unique community and culture that should be preserved and respected as should the gorgeous environment in which they live. I would imagine that the Gullah do not have the amenities the rich incomers will get, i.e. paved roads, mains water, etc and perhaps they don’t want that. If the rich people moving in want these things then let THEM bear the costs. And stringent rules should be put in place to limit the development of the island and ensure that the Gullah be allowed to live their way of life.

  • TAWANDA INCOMMUNICADO

    I come from coastal Nigeria,an area responsible for a great proportion of slaves taken to the Americas.One of the very active port cities is called Sapele,it is a sprawling coastal town today.
    Our first colonisers were the portugese who called people from this town Sapelos,I certainly think this to be the origin of that name.Most slaves taken from this Town were from the Ibo tribe,Sapele was an active port for export of slaves from the Ibo hinterland.The State of Georgia has a long history with Ibo slaves like the ones who committed mass suicide at Savanna Georgia.

  • TAWANDA INCOMMUNICADO

    I forgot to add in my above comment that my tribe,the Ibo are the only tribe where rice is cultivated massively along the Nigerian coast,we are responsible for more than 90% of the rice produced locally in southern Nigeria,history has it that this factor coupled with our height,we are tall,this made us an endangered species of sorts during the trans-Atlantic slavery times,we were easily identified because we were lighter than most west Africans in complexion hence the phrase “red Iboe”.I wish I could get a reply from any person from this Island.
    This injustice must be resisted through all legal means,The African Union and all associated human rights outfits can be organised to restrain the authorities.

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