If you are familiar with Gullah-Geechee people in the South, then you know that they are direct descendants of West Africans who were enslaved on the indigo, rice, and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast. The Gullah people have preserved much of their African and Creole culture and it’s evident in everything from their art to their cuisine. There aren’t many Gullah-Geechee communities left in the country, but the largest can be found in Charleston, South Carolina.

Sapelo Island is Georgia’s last Gullah-Geechee area and it is in jeopardy of being eliminated. Lawmakers recently started the process to redistribute and sell land protected under Georgia’s Heritage Trust Program to developers. Although the state currently owns the majority of the land on the island, a few residents with ties to the area are trying to stop them from taking the rest.

Earl Walker, cast net maker from Hog Hammock, Sapelo Island, Georgia.

“Sapelo could quickly become another Hilton Head or elsewhere,” Jennifer Thompson, a recent graduate of Davidson College said in an interview. “If House Bill 906 were to be passed, that could easily happen.”

The bill failed to pass the last legislative session, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen during a later session. According to Thompson, if they lose the land then they lose their community.

Thompson along with Maurice Bailey and Victor-Alan Weeks are stepping up to save the land, starting with a community garden. It is their hope that by preserving the land with a garden it will help them hold on to the culture.

Bailey has lived on the island, and his late mother was once the historian and storyteller for residents on the island.

“She spent her life trying to protect the heritage and the last surviving Geechee community here on Sapelo,” Bailey said.

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