I have spent over four decades of my life fighting for Gullah/Geechees to maintain their land ownership. Over the decades, I have been deposed in numerous legal cases and we won all of them. I give thanks for the numerous lawyers that provided legal advice to and workshops for the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalitionwhich allowed us to share this knowledge with hundreds of Gullah/Geechee families over the two decades of the organization’s work to keep Gullah/Geechee culture alive. Ef we ain dey pun disya land, de culcha ain gwine stand.
One of the key issues that many people (not just Gullah/Geechees) do not want to address or do not know how to approach is estate planning. A critical aspect of estate planning is writing a will. Without a will, individually owned property will revert to becoming heirs property and can lead to complications resulting in the courts deciding how the assets are disbursed. Unfortunately, family in fighting has caused hundreds of thousands to millions of acres of land in the Sea Islands and Lowcountry to be sold off when judges decided to do forced partition sales. I have NEVER met any heir that ended up with sufficient money to own property and a home and sustain themselves somewhere else once they have lost property that our ancestors had poured their blood, sweat, tears, and financial resources into. So, I and lawyers encourage native Gullah/Geechees (whether you really think you have an estate or not) to begin to learn about estate planning. Begin with the first step-making a will.
If you are the type of person that wants to begin the process yourself and then see an attorney to review your work, you may want to use this online tool provided to us by Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank partner, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League:
Once they provide you with information, you still need to act on it. Consider getting a group of family members to all attend this virtual symposium and then host your own family meeting to decide how you will work peacefully together to insure that you hold onto the land to pass it to future heirs as our ancestors intended when they first purchased the land in the latter 1800s and the early 1900s.
Any native Gullah/Geechees that have not paid their land taxes for this year should have already received registered mail providing you the total amount of taxes, fees, and penalties that are due IMMEDIATELY. If this is not paid, your land will be placed on the roll for the land auctions that take place in October. You will then be up against land speculators that are definitely looking to swoop in amidst a pandemic and displace families. Don’t assist them in the process!
New tax bills will be sent out in November. Land / property taxes have continued to be taken in the midst of the pandemic as they continue to get taken during hurricane season annually. Disasters do not stop counties in the Gullah/Geechee Nation from also adding to displacement via land auctions. So, you have to be proactive and have the will to hold on to your personal and your families property. Ef ain da no land fa we, ain da no Gullah/Geechee. So, hunnuh chillun, do wha we ancestas bin do, hold pun disya land not juss fa hunnuh, but fa hunnuh chillun chillun tuh.