West News Wire: In a small island community in the US state of Georgia, descendants of Black slaves have reopened a long-running legal dispute with local officials over a plan to remove safeguards that have for years protected the Gullah-Geechee residents from high taxes and pressure to sell their land to developers. 

Hogg Hummock villagers and their supporters crowded a courthouse on Thursday in an effort to maintain the safeguards that allowed them to retain their land. 

On Sapelo Island, off the coast of Georgia, a community of 30 to 50 Black people, the organisation challenged a plan by McIntosh County officials to ignore zoning laws that restrict homes to modest sizes. 

They said removing the zoning protections would drive out Hogg Hummock residents by attracting developers looking for profits and wealthy buyers eager to build large beach houses, causing land values and property taxes to soar and the Black residents to move elsewhere. 

“It’s the erasure of a historical culture that’s still intact after 230 years,” said Reginal Hall, a Hogg Hummock landowner whose family has deep roots on the island. “Once you raise those limits and the land value increases, we only have two to three years at most. If you talk about the descendants of the enslaved, 90 percent of us will be gone.” 

It wasn’t the first time, according to Sapelo Island’s Black residents, who were at odds with the county government, said Commissioner Roger Lotson, whose district covers Sapelo Island. 

Lotson claimed that his goal was to convince them of Hogg Hummock’s value. 

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Lotson remarked, “It’s a step back in time.” And many people, like myself, worry that Sapelo’s distinctiveness will rapidly vanish if any size house is permitted there. 

In a statement released before to the hearing on Thursday, the county manager, Patrick Zoucks, supported the zoning proposal, claiming it was “in the best interest of the residents of Hogg Hammock and all of the citizens of McIntosh County.” 

Before devising the zoning ordinances, some of the Black families in the enclave had sold their land to outsiders who built vacation homes. This caused soaring property values and tax increases. 

The remaining Hogg Hammock residents and landowners packed the county courthouse in 2012 to appeal to the painful tax rises. County officials rolled most of them back. 

The Black residents in Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island are the last known members of the Gullah-Geechee community, descendants of enslaved West Africans sent to the island in the 1700s and 1800s for forced labor on the island’s plantations. 

In 1996, the Hogg Hammock community was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Hog Hammock Historic District and to visit the preserved island, one must obtain a permit issued by state tourism authorities.

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