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Where Is My Land ANNOUNCES STOLEN BLACK LAND AND THE VANISHING OF THE GULLAH-GEECHEE POPULATIONS ON SAPELO ISLAND-GEORGIA
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2022 –Where Is My Land (WIML) continues to spearhead the national movement to restore property and secure restitution for Black families whose land was unjustly stolen in the United States.
Where Is My Land, is championing the efforts to recover land stolen from the descendants of Bilali Muhammad, and to preserve the last intact Gullah-Geechee community in the United States on Sapelo Island. Cornelia Walker Bailey, a giant of Gullah Geechee Culture, told NPR in 2008, “Culture is no good without land. We’re holding onto the land, so we can hold on to the culture.”
At issue are 700 acres that served as, or are currently serving as, the homestead for the Gullah-Geechee population, and that was stolen by Richard J. Reynolds, Jr., the wealthy tobacco heir from North Carolina. Through coercion and fraudulent “land swaps,” Reynolds’ stole the majority of the land belonging to the Gullah-Geechee. His scheme of unequal “land swaps” included forged deeds, and resulted in an egregious disparity in the quality and amount of land exchanged.
After Reynolds died in 1964, his widow sold the Sapelo Island holdings to the State of Georgia. Currently the state asserts ownership of over 97% of the land on Sapelo Island. The State then placed the Island under the control of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which, in conjunction with State-Created Sapelo Island Heritage Authority (SIHA), began working in opposition to what they were supposedly created to do: preserve Sapelo Island. Instead they began leasing land to land developers for tourism.
The Reynolds’ acquisition of the Gullah-Geechee community’s land was illegal and forcibly obtained. Still, the State continues to claim title to it based on Ms. Reynolds’ land transfers, and despite a preliminary title study giving it notice that its ownership interest of lands in Raccoon Bluff is only a minority interest, at best. That study concluded that Gullah-Geechee descendants have valid claims to land in several of the original lots in Raccoon Bluff.
The State, the DNR, and SIHA have intentionally sabotaged the Gullah-Geechee community in an attempt to force them to leave their homesteads. These entities must cease intentionally obstructing the ownership rights of Sapelo Island’s remaining Gullah-Geechee people, while showing favoritism to private investors and developers, whose goal is to turn the island into a resort-like tourist haven.
Reginald Hall, a descendent of Gullah-Geechee said “But mine is not always the story of legacy. Mine is the story of today; mine is the story of the impending doom of this historical place. Once you displace families, once you steal the land, the memory is gone.”