Island slave descendants settle Georgia discrimination suit

Savannah, Ga. (AP) — An enclave of slave descendants off the Georgia coast has settled a federal lawsuit that claimed a lack of government services was destroying their island community, the few remaining gulp-geechi on the Southeast U.S. coast. one of the settlements.

The agreement states that residents of the small Hog Hummock community on Sapelo Island will receive better emergency services and road maintenance from Mackintosh County, while some residents’ property tax assessments will be frozen until 2025.

The island’s residents and landowners fought the county in US District Court for nearly seven years before a deal was struck. A judge closed the civil case on July 20, a few days before it went for hearing.

The island’s black residents argued that their community of about 50 people was rapidly shrinking because landlords paid high property taxes while receiving few basic services, forcing them to sell their land.

“We have stood up,” Reginald Hall, one of the Sapelo Island landlords who filed the lawsuit, said Monday. “And because we’re winning, we now have an opportunity for hope.”

Descendants of enslaved people known as Gullah, or Geechi in Georgia, live in small island communities stretching 425 miles (684 km) of the southern Atlantic U.S. coast from North Carolina to Florida, where their ancestors freed by civil Worked on tree plantation till he was born. war. Hog Hammock, also known as Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island, is one of the last such communities.

Accessible only by boat from the mainland, the largely undeveloped barrier island about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Savannah has no schools, police, fire departments or garbage collection – although the island property owner County elsewhere in the U.S. pay the taxes used to fund those services.

The legal settlement requires Mackintosh County to build a helicopter landing pad on the island for emergency rescue and evacuation, provide a truck equipped for emergency medical services and ensure that the island’s lone fire truck is in good working condition. Is. The county will also pay residents to receive firefighting and emergency response training.

County officials also agreed to ensure that the island’s garbage compactor is emptied once a month, while cutting garbage collection fees by 30% for Hog Hammock residents, and the community’s dirt roads. And quarterly maintenance of trenches should be provided. And the county will pay $2 million in cash to cover damages and attorney’s fees.

As has always been the case, all residents of Sapelo, regardless of caste, receive equal services. Any difference in services between the mainland and Sapelo is due to geography as the boat ride to Sapelo takes 25–30 minutes.

The settlement document stated that the deal was in no way an “acceptance or acceptance of liability” by county officials. The county’s lead attorney in the lawsuit, Richard Strickland, denied that the county discriminated against Hog Hammock residents because they were black.

“As has always been the case, all residents of Sapelo, regardless of race, receive the same services,” Strickland said in an emailed statement Monday. “Any difference in services between the mainland and Sapelo is due to geography, as it takes a boat ride of 25–30 minutes to reach Sapelo.”

In addition to claims against the county, the lawsuit also accused the state of Georgia of operating yachts and docks that failed to meet federal accessibility standards for people with disabilities.

State officials reached an agreement with the island’s residents in October 2020, agreeing to demolish and replace the old dock while upgrading the ferry boats to accommodate people in wheelchairs and the disabled. The state also made a cash settlement of $750,000.

The original lawsuit file in December 2015 listed more than 40 island residents, landowners and their family members as plaintiffs. Several of them died while the case was still pending, and a judge dismissed the claims of 19 others because they could not be proved. Property owned on the island.

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