Sapelo Island faces fight

Published: Jul. 27, 2011 at 10:23 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 31, 2011 at 11:40 PM EDT
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SAPELO ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Every day, Reginald Hall takes the 12 minute boat ride from Sapelo Island to the mainland to conduct business.

But tomorrow, he'll make a longer, more important trip as part of a group hoping to preserve, restore and rebuild Sapelo's local history.

Hall will present the Geechee Gullah Cultural Act to the state legislature, seeking to end what he calls cultural deprivation of descendents of slaves who have lived on Sapelo for 210 years and the return of land he says the state has taken illegally from the Geechee Gullahs.

"It's systemic,'' says Hall, the CEO of the Sapelo-based Geechee Gullah Culture, Inc. "That is an idea of how to remove the people from the land to create another Jekyll Island, another St. Simons or Hiltion Head. It can't happen.''

What locals claim has been happening in Sapelo's 13 Geechee Gullah neighborhoods, its historic district, has been the dwindling presence of a people being forced out, they say by increased property taxes because of new, un-zoned resort homes and large landholders like the state's Department of Natural Resources and the University of Georgia.

"They're the only two organizations over here,'' said Iregene Grovener. "They don't hire anybody from the community, but they use the Sapelo Island name to get their grants.''

"My community is dying every day,'' added Cornelia Bailey, a local resident and business owner. "Somebody out there has got to be able to help.''

For Geechee Gullah residents, that help would be welcome from an administrative hearing on the equity in governance act or simply increased exposure to their plight.

"Business as usual must be conducted differently,'' said Hall. "It must be conducted with the resident of sapelo as decendents to have gernance of our own equities.''

"The state owns 99.9 percent of Sapelo and we own the other .1 percent,'' added Bailey. "But this .1 percent is very important because we're one of the last gullah geechee heritages left. I want this to remain our homeland. I want that for my children, my grandchildren and great grandchildren, even the unborn. I want this to be the place.''

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