Though they receive no county services such as police or garbage collection, one of the last remaining colonies of Gullah people — direct descendants of slaves who have preserved much of their African culture — are being forced from their tiny island home off the Georgia coast due to jolting property tax hikes.
There are few Gullah communities left. The one on Georgia’s Sapelo Island is among the last. But real estate developers in search of valuable coastal property to sell to wealthy buyers have moved in.
As a result, the Gullah have seen their property taxes skyrocket over the past two years, even though they get almost nothing in return for their tax dollars. Gullah children must move to the mainland just to go to school.
The Gullah community in the colony known as Hog Hammock consists of fewer than 50 people.
One resident told the Associated Press that her tax bill jumped from $800 to $3,000. Another couple who own a home, small store and an inn on a single acre saw their bill spike from $220,285 in 2011 to $327,063 last year.
Still another, owners of one undeveloped acre, said that their land was appraised at just $10,000 two years ago, but is valued at $181,250 today, even though they have done nothing to develop the land.
But McIntosh County property appraisers say their valuations are accurate and they aren’t budging, even though residents appealed for them to take do a new round of evaluations and the McIntosh County Board Of Equalization ordered them to do so in January.
They appealed again on Monday, to no avail.
Some Hog Hammock residents have sold their property in the last couple of years for prices up to $165,000 per half-acre.
The Gullah are descended from slaves who were abducted from West Africa, mainly in a region that today would be Sierra Leone. They were mainly used on rice plantations in the southeast, areas that were often plagued by malaria and yellow fever. But the West African slaves were largely immune to those diseases compared to their white, European-descended slave masters.
Their immunity allowed them to love in isolation not only from other slave communities but from the white landowners who fled their plantations fearing disease. The Gullah people have lived in insular communities ever since.
SOURCES: Associated Press, Christian Science Monitor, Wikipedia, Daily Journal