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Historic Gullah Land Preservation Program

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The Historic Gullah Land Crisis

Gullah land encompasses an area, which has a federal designation, as the Gullah Geechee Corridor. For 400 years, the Gullah Geechee people lived along 79 coastal sea islands from North Carolina to Florida and roughly 35 miles inland. The Gullah culture is a culture that continues today, however, it is a culture that has begun to diminish over time and needs to be recognized for its cultural significance as well as its role in American history. The Corridor was established to do just that.   

As a result of the land’s proximity to the coastline and being mostly sea islands, development, tourism and financial strains have taken its toll on the amount of land that the Gullah have been able to hold on to. For example, at one point on Hilton Head Island, over 3,500 acres were owned by Gullah families. Daily, that number is dwindling and at recent estimates, the number of acres still retained is less than 700.

According to a 2006 report, since the end of the Civil War, within the Gullah Geechee Corridor, Gullah families have lost more than 14 million acres of family property and only slightly more than 1 million acres that were purchased by former slaves has remained in family hands.

The Uniqueness of Historic Gullah Land

Traditionally, Historic Gullah Land comes with a unique set of issues. Most property, because it has been passed down through generations, is considered to be heirs’ property, which is land that has been handed from family member to family member, often without it being property deeded. The original purchaser, usually a former slave, did not have a will or was unable to deed the property to their descendants. The purchaser, more than 100+ years later, might have several, if not hundreds of heirs who have ownership rights towards the property, yet without a clear title. The property probably has been lived upon for generations, yet if the land goes up for sale or needs to be divided, the legality of who can do what with the property comes into play.

As a result of the complexity of heir’s property, and as a non-profit, the Lowcountry Gullah Foundation’s Historic Gullah Land Preservation Program has a three-pronged approach. The goal of this program is not to become a crutch and or an annual financial handout for struggling landowners. The program’s ultimate goal is to allow property owners the opportunity to maintain their generational assets.

For more information on Heirs Property here are several videos that explain the complexities of heirs property:

1) The BET TV show, Disrupt & Dismantle, hosted by Soledad O’Brien, Season 1 Episode 3 – The Battle for Black Land, speaks specifically about the critical land loss on the world-class tourist destination, Hilton Head Island.

2) An excerpt from the BET TV show, Disrupt & Dismantle, hosted by Soledad O’Brien. In addition to the Jones family’s land loss story, here’s a clip from the after-show conversation from the episode of The Battle for Black Land ; which explains how heirs property was created, its legal complications, and the complexity that trying to resolve it faces.

3) The Showtime TV show, VICE News called How Property Law is Used to Appropriate Black Land.

4) The 2021 MSNBC story on How Gullah Geechee Families are Losing their Land and Wealth

Spanish Moss Drips into the Lagoon
Photo Credit: LMGS

Saving Historic Gullah Land

The property owners most likely are facing more issues with the property than just a lack of finances. In an effort to assist families and develop a situation that ensures continued future success, in order to participate in the program and able to accept land preservation funds, the individual must provide some financial equity towards the tax debt, as well as be willing to receive educational support and resources regarding heirs property, drawing up a will and assistance establishing a clear title.  Participants must commit to certain objectives and certain criteria to be admitted to the program because involvement and ultimately their success is dependent on that participation. In addition, the awardee must also attend our financial preparedness program, which would serve as a “preventative” mechanism to avoid future financial difficulties.

For an example of how raising taxation faces Gullah families, read an article on how Development and Taxation Threaten the Last Remaining Gullah Community in Sapelo Island, Georgia.

The Three-Pronged Approach to Financing the Preservation of Historic Gullah Land

The Lowcountry Gullah Foundation was established as a non-profit to assist Gullah communities within the Gullah Geechee Corridor through a three-pronged approach for raising funds. Primarily, the landowner must have a financial stake in saving their land. 

Secondarily, through site revenue and grants, the Lowcountry Gullah Foundation provides financial assistance to families or individuals in need, based on the listed properties on the annual County Tax Records for Delinquent Properties.

Finally, the Lowcountry Gullah Foundation and the community rely on the generous tax-deductible donations of people like you who are interested in helping us to protect the culture’s greatest asset, historic Gullah land. 

The Lowcountry Gullah Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization.

2021 brought a significant win in the battle to save every acre of historic Gullah land. The 2021 Beaufort County Tax Sale results.

Help us continue our work protecting generational lands by purchasing the Gullah artwork that’s featured throughout the site or make a tax free donation. Click here for more information.

We are very proud to share that we earned a 2022 Gold Seal of Transparency! Learn more about our organization’s impact through our #NonprofitProfile on @CandidDotOrg: Check out our profile at Lowcountry Gullah Foundation.

To make a secure donation scan our QR Code below or click here.

The application to apply for funds can be found below.

For more information and questions about applying for funds or making a donation, please contact the Lowcountry Gullah Foundation directly at:

Email | gullahland@gmail.com.

Address | 213 William Hilton Parkway, Post Office Box 21832, Hilton Head, South Carolina 29925

Phone | 843.715.3506

T’engky, T’enky – Gullah for Thank You

Foundation Sponsors

The Lowcountry Gullah Foundation is a 501{c} 3 organization

© Lowcountry Gullah, The Lowcountry Gullah Foundation and www.lowcountrygullah.com, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lowcountry Gullah, The Lowcountry Gullah Foundation and www.lowcountrygullah.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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