Descendants of Slaves Fight For Their Land
Descendants of West African Slaves (known as Gullah Geechee) residing in North Carolina are currently fighting to retain ownership of their land and their homes.
In a recent BBC article, residents of Jackson Village, one of the three black communities in Plantersville, South Carolina, spoke out about the possibility of losing their land to auctions.
One of the persons speaking out is Lillian Milton, who found out about losing her home upon arriving at the local council offices to settle her tax bill. She was told that her home had been sold because she had failed to pay a $250 levy for sewer service. She was left in confusion and shock, since, at that time, she had not been connected to the sewer system. Milton tells BBC,
“They had sold everything, the property, the house and all and when I offered to pay them with a cheque, they told me I couldn’t. I had to get cash money – 880 some dollars that I had to pay them to get my place back. It’s like they were saying if I didn’t get on the system I wouldn’t have no place to stay.”
Milton suffered a heart attack in January, and suspects it was brought on by the stress she experienced while trying to regain ownership of her home.
Another resident, Rev. Ben Grate, voiced the fear and anxiety that the community feels when it comes to high tax bills and having developers snatch their land. Grate stated,
“The only people we see are the developers. We call them ‘strangers’ and we are afraid of them. Because they come to take your land. They are millionaires, in big cars, driving slow, staking out property, dreaming on what it would be like to have a motel on the river right here.”
While these developers deem the land to be valuable because of the fact that it is coastal, its residents see it as the only place where they have ever felt at home, since their ancestors purchased the land from plantation owners; however, few of them possess deeds to their homes.
Historically, the freed slaves who originally purchased the land were understandably mistrustful of the legal system, and were also excluded from it, and did not leave written wills to their descendants.
The land is held in common, and the relatives of these freed slaves are allowed to live on it under “Heir’s Property Rights;” however, so are all the descendants of the original owners. According to an estimate by Rev. Ben Grate, more than a million people, dispersed across America, have a share of land in Plantersville, whether they are aware of it or not.
20 homes were put up for auction last week.
A story such as this one ought to be receiving much more coverage from the media, as these people face the possibility of waking up and having no where to live every day.
By: Danielle Dixon
Follow her on Twitter: @tooprettydani