The Gullah Are Battling A Tax Hike In Georgia Meant To Push Them Off Their Land

October 6, 2013  |  
A still from a clip of the Georgia Gullah Geechee Ring shouters.

Descendants of slaves in Georgia are saying no to taxes.

They are residents of one of the few remaining Gullah-Geechee communities on the Southeast coast and they are afraid of being pushed off lands their families have owned since their ancestors were freed from slavery.  The residents have just opened new appeals against soaring property values that brought them big tax hikes. It’s a fight that began a few months ago.

“The African-American residents of the tiny Hog Hammock community on Georgia’s Sapelo Island got sticker shock last year when steep increases in their property values saddled them with whopping tax bills,” reports Yahoo News.

The tax hikes were enacted due to pressure from mainland buyers driving up land values while seeking property along or near the Atlantic coast. Critics, however, say the increasing tax burden violates protections in place to help preserve the island’s indigenous inhabitants.

The Gullah-Geechee culture has retained their African roots and traditions and Hog Hammock, which has fewer than 50 residents, is one of the last such communities from North Carolina to Florida. Reachable only by boat, Sapelo Island is separated from the mainland  and since 1976, the state of Georgia has owned most of its 30 square miles.

“The Gullah, referred to as Geechee in Georgia, are scattered in island communities over 425 miles of Atlantic coast where they’ve endured after their slave ancestors who worked island plantations were freed by the Civil War,” reports Yahoo News.

The new tax hikes are hitting the residents hard. The appraisal for Julius and Cornelia Bailey’s single acre on which they have a home, a convenience store and a small inn shoot from $220,285 in 2011 to $327,063 last year. And their tax bill increased from about $800 to $3,000.

In another case, William and Maggie Banks saw their single acre of undeveloped land vault from an appraised value of $10,000 two years ago to a whopping $181,250. A small number of Hog Hammock landowners have sold their properties since 2012 for as much as $165,500 a half-acre to mainland buyers.Now the remaining residents are battling to keep their land. Attorneys for Hog Hammock residents claim that county appraisers unfairly valued properties based on land sales between corporations and developers that were artificially high. And that they also dealt with properties never listed on the open market.

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