“We will keep this land no matter what,” Josephine Wright added, “if it’s going to be another 200 years.” “That’s the way we look at it.”
However, not everyone shares this viewpoint.
Hilton Head Island’s tranquil marshes and beautiful beaches have been home to the Gullah-Geechee people since before America became America.
However, community residents claim that development threatens the people still living there.
Josephine Wright has resided in this Hilton Head Island mansion for 30 years, but she claims her family’s home has been on this site since the Civil War, acquired by freedmen and handed down through generations.
Her husband, a Gullah descendent, wanted to ensure the property remained in the family after his death.
“I feel so much pride and comfort knowing that this is where I’ll be for the rest of my life,” Wright says.
However, the 93-year-old great-grandma has found little solace here in recent months.
“This is when we start hearing the trees, boom, boom.”
A business with plans to develop 147 three-story townhouses along Jonesville Road, a historic Gullah-Geechee enclave, is suing Wright.
“This land contains our blood, sweat, and tears,” said Tracey Love Graves, Wright’s granddaughter. “My forefathers are buried here at the end of the road.”
Today, the building is encroaching on Wright’s modest house.
“Has the developer ever come to you to speak face to face about this?” Dianne asks.
“No, I’ve never spoken to any of them,” Wright says. They’ve never been to my door.”
She claims that roughly five years ago, a lady approached her about selling the property to an interested, anonymous bidder for $39,000.
“‘You insulted my IQ,’ I responded. And would you convey that message to them?'”
According to her, her first contact with the corporation – Bailey Point Investment LLC – was being issued with a legal notice, which asserts that a satellite dish, a shed, and a piece of Wright’s screened-in back porch were outside of her property line, encroaching on theirs – according to their land survey.
The complaint wants removal, “just and adequate compensation for its loss of use and enjoyment” of their land, and expenditures associated with construction delays.
“Bailey Point says, that, the corner?” Dianne and Josephine ask.
Josephine: “That little corner is on their property.”
Wright has filed a countersuit stating that Bailey Point and its allies are harassing and intimidating her off the property.
Bailey Point has responded, rejecting any harassment and past attempts to buy her farm.
She has gotten a flood of love and money from celebrities such as Tyler Perry, Snoop Dogg, Fantasia, and NBA star Kyrie Irving.
The Town of Hilton Head has now declared that, by town rules, it would halt all development and refuse to grant Bailey Point building licenses until the litigation is settled.
But Josephine Wright is not fighting alone.
She addresses Gullah culture and the Gullah resolve to fight back.
Luana Graves Sellars founded the Lowcountry Gullah Foundation to avoid land loss among the Gullah-Geechee population.
Her charity believes that since Hilton Head Island became a tourist attraction by constructing a mainland bridge in the 1950s, the Gullah Geechee have lost about two-thirds of their territory, mostly due to issues with “heir’s property.”
“How pervasive is that on this island now?” Dianne asks.
“It’s prevalent here, but it’s prevalent throughout the South,” says Luana. Unfortunately, heir’s property is the most common method for black people in America to lose their land.”
Heir’s property is a type of land ownership in which multiple family members may inherit a single property for generations after the original owner dies. Still, clearer legal documentation is often needed, leaving families vulnerable to land loss when family members disagree about selling.
Developers are acquiring the land in several of these circumstances.But in the instance of Josephine Wright, she is standing fast.
“Well, let me put it to you this way: I’ve never backed down on anything that was right,” she said.
Wright obtained the rights to her farm in 2012, after the death of her spouse in 1998.