(ATLANTA, GA, 09/15/2023) – The Georgia chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) today condemned the approval of a controversial zoning proposal by McIntosh County that severely weakens protections for Hogg Hummock, a Gullah Geechee community descended from enslaved Bilali Muhammad.
Despite overwhelming public opposition to the proposal to more than double permissible home size on the island, which would severely impact Hogg Hummock property taxes and drive indigenous landowners away, County Commissioners voted in favor of the proposal 3-2 on September 12th.
“We are proud to stand with Sapelo Island’s Gullah Geechee people. They are a unique and beautiful community, and a living link to some of the first American Muslims.” said Megan Gordon, CAIR-Georgia Policy Manager, “We are incredibly disappointed and angry with McIntosh Commissioners Poole, Stevenson, and Karwacki for prioritizing millionaire’s vacation houses over the Gullah Geechee and their ancestral home. This fight is far from over, and we will do all we can to ensure the Gullah Geechee are able to stay in their ancestral home on Sapelo Island.”
See CAIR-Georgia’s action alert against this vote here: https://action.cair.com/a/demand-mcintosh-county-commission-vote-protect-gullah-geechee-community-hogg-hummock
The contested zoning proposal faced hours of oppositional public testimony in a County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on September 7th with a historically high number of 200 community members in attendance. Everyone who spoke at the hearing was against the proposal. State legislators, faith leaders, attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center, community activists, laypeople, and a CAIR-Georgia representative were also present at the September 7th meeting. The McIntosh County Sheriff did not allow recording of that hearing or the County Commission meeting on September 11th, which is a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Members of the press were allowed to record with their cell phones at the County Commission meeting on September 12th, when the Commission voted on the proposal.
Hogg Hummock resident, Deborah Dixon, said:
“I am disappointed with the commissioner’s decision to pass the rezoning ordinance, especially when I think about the Gullah-Geechee culture that currently exists within the Hog Hummock community. The people were deceived and disrespected; therefore, moving forward with this leaves me somewhat leery, and I question if those who move in the community are truly “neighbors”. Overall, we must continue to fight for what’s right, because this was a wrong decision.”
See CAIR-Georgia’s action alert to protect Hogg Hummock here: https://action.cair.com/a/protect-gullah-geechee-community?snw=2&ref=5dc09318-2e7e-40aa-a12e-14d2a3257ec8
After learning about the vote, Senator Nikki Merritt said:
“McIntosh Commissioners’ decision to disregard the vehement opposition of the Hogg Hummock Community, despite numerous residents passionately expressing their concerns at county meetings, appears to be nothing short of an act of institutional theft, driven by the interests of the wealthy and powerful. This move threatens the very existence of the Gullah-Geechee people and their unique culture. The fight is not over, we must demand justice for Hogg Hammock all legal options are on the table.”
Sapelo Island is home to descendants of enslaved people like Bilali Muhammad, a historic Islamic scholar for American Muslims. Bilali Muhammad established a Muslim community and Islamic practices on the island and wrote the first known Islamic document in North America.
American Muslim House Representative of Georgia, Ruwa Romman, said:
“I’m disappointed in McIntosh County Commissioners’ decision to weaken zoning restrictions that, for decades, have protected one of the last intact Gullah-Geechee communities in the world. Weakening the already measly protections will further displace this historic community and further endanger the natural flora and fauna of this island.”
The Gullah Geechee community on Sapelo Island has faced discrimination and attempts at erasure before. Prior to this meeting, housing sizes were capped at 1400 square feet, but these limits were not enforced for new developers on the island. Consequently, property taxes for natives almost doubled.
SEE ALSO: Descendants of enslaved Africans on Georgia island fear losing their culture and some property after a change in zoning laws https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/13/us/sapelo-island-zoning-gullah-geechee/index.html
After the county vote, Representative Kim Schofield stated:
“This egregious action only further expresses the hatred and long-standing racism that is directed toward people of color on Sapelo Island and the Hog Hummock community. Our fight continues.”
In addition to discriminately enforced housing requirements, the ferries to and from the island were infrequent and inadequately timed which prevented natives on the island from being able to have jobs on the mainland or build a robust tourism industry.
In response to learning about these violations, Representative Viola Davis said:
“The residents of Sapelo Island have faced limits on voicing opposition to zoning changes, restricted transportation, and a profound violation of their First Amendment Rights, especially to petition their government. We must conduct a comprehensive investigation to dismantle these systemic barriers that impede taxpayers and voters of Sapelo Island from petitioning their government effectively. Democracy thrives when every voice is heard.”
The Gullah Geechee also suffered from a lack of emergency fire and ambulance on the island despite their aging population. Although they pay taxes, McIntosh County also fails to provide adequate trash services to the community.
Georgia State Representative Shelly Hutchinson stated:
“It’s shameful that greed trumped the rights if the indigenous families of Hog Hummock on September 12th in Darien, Georgia. We will support the families in this fight every step of the way.”
Earlier this summer, CAIR-Georgia arranged a legislative tour to show elected officials firsthand the hardships faced by residents of Sapelo Island.
SEE: CAIR-Georgia Holds the First Historic Meeting Between Legislators and the Gullah Geechee Residents of Sapelo Island https://cairgeorgia.org/in-your-community/cair-georgia-holds-the-first-historic-meeting-between-legislators-and-the-gullah-geechee-residents-of-sapelo-island/
Dan Gardner, a Hogg Hummock resident said, “We, the descendants of Sapelo Island stand resolute in our commitment to preserve our land, culture, and history. We are not just prepared; we are absolutely determined to wield every available legal tool and resource to safeguard what is inherently ours by birthright.”
Representative Sandra Scott relayed an important message to the Gullah Geechee community that has been tirelessly fighting for their right to stay on their native land, “To the Hogg Hammock Community: Please don’t get weary. Trust God! I have been supporting you for 12 years and I will continue to stand and support you in saving your ancestral land.”
Like Sandra, CAIR-Georgia will continue to support the Gullah Geechee community in saving their land.
CAIR-Georgia’s mission is to protect civil rights, promote justice, empower American Muslims, and enhance the understanding of Islam.