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Descendants of Enslaved Africans Being Forced Off Their Land on Sapelo Island Due to Soaring Tax Hikes

The Gullah-Geechee community off the coast of southern Georgia is appealing tax hikes which they believe may run them off the land their families have owned since slavery ended.

Brandon Dixon fishes on Sapelo Island. Courtesy: New York Times

Affluent buyers who’ve taken an interest in Sapelo Island (where the Gullah community lives) are driving up property values. The African-American property owners in the small communities were shocked when their tax bills arrived and now many have racked up tax bills due to the increases.

Appraisals for property in the community are hitting record levels as wealthy buyers who want a piece of the coastal community drive up prices. But members of the Gullah-Geechee community claim that the tax bills violate protections which are intended to preserve indigenous populations.

The slave descendants in Hog Hammock have preserved their African culture more than any other group in the U.S. As it stands, there are less than 50 members of the Gullah community in the area and if the tax hikes remain, they will be dispersed.

Here’s an example from the Associated Press of how property taxes are skyrocketing in the community:

Julius and Cornelia Bailey saw the appraised value of the 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. Appraisers in Georgia’s McIntosh County held firm on the new value after being ordered to take a second look in January by local authorities.

Even though the area receives no city services such as schools or trash pickup, the taxes are being raised, causing many to wonder what’s behind the tax increases.

Since there are virtually no city services, resident Comelia Bailey wonders, “So what are we paying taxes for?” Her tax bill increased from $800 to $3000 dollars.

One resident whose land had been appraised at $10,000 was appraised at $181, 250 this year.

The Appeals Board has thus far stood by the higher tax appraisals, but the Geechee community intends to keep fighting.

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