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Enslaved People Resolve to Persist After Georgia County Approves Larger Homes for Island Enclave

They packed a meeting of McIntosh County’s elected commissioners, together with supporters of the Hogg Hummock hamlet on Sapelo Island, to oppose zoning changes. They believe that these changes benefit rich purchasers and may result in tax rises, forcing them to sell their home.

Regardless, commissioners decided 3-2 to relax zoning restrictions put in place almost three decades ago with the declared goal of assisting Hogg Hummock’s 30 to 50 people in keeping their property.

Yolanda Grovner, 54, of Atlanta, said she had long hoped to retire on property in Hogg Hummock owned by her father, an island native. She left the county courtroom on Tuesday night, unsure whether that would ever happen.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult,” Grovner said. “I think this is their way of pushing residents off the island,” she continued.

Hogg Hummock is one of just a few remaining settlements in Georgia of Gullah or Geechee people whose ancestors labored on island slave farms.


Residents and landowners are used to clashes with the local administration. Residents spent years suing the county in federal court for basic services such as firefighting apparatus and garbage collection until county authorities resolved last year.

“We’re still fighting all the time,” Maurice Bailey, a Hogg Hummock native, said. Maurice’s mother, Cornelia Bailey, was a famed storyteller and one of Sapelo Island’s most prominent voices until her death in 2017. “They’re not going to give up.” People who are moving in do not appreciate us as individuals. They adore our cuisine and our culture. But they don’t care about us.”

The population of Hogg Hummock has been declining in recent decades, and several families have sold their property to strangers who have erected holiday houses. New building has raised concerns about the size of the residences.

The maximum size of a dwelling in Hogg Hummock was increased by commissioners on Tuesday to 3,000 square feet (278 square meters) of total enclosed area. The previous maximum of heated and air-conditioned area was 1,400 square feet (130 square meters).

Commissioner Davis Poole, who voted in favor of reducing the size limit, said that it would enable “a modest home enabling a whole family to stay under one roof.”

“The commissioners are not out to destroy the Gullah-Geechee culture or erase the history of Sapelo,” Poole said. “We’re not out to make more money for the county.”

Commission Chairman David Stevens, who has been visiting Sapelo Island since the 1980s, blamed the shifting scenery of Hogg Hummock on local owners who sold their property.

“I don’t need anybody to lecture me on the culture of Sapelo Island,” Stevens said, adding, “If you don’t want these outsiders, if you don’t want these new homes being built… don’t sell your land.”

County authorities claim that size limitations based on heated and cooled spaces were hard to implement. More than a dozen houses in Hogg Hummock seemed to be in violation of the rules, according to County Attorney Adam Poppell, and in some instances, residents refused to open their doors to inspectors.

Landowner Richard Banks of Hogg Hummock compared this to the county allowing lawbreakers to write the laws.

“Should we raise the speed limits for all speeders if everyone wants to exceed the speed limit?” Banks said.

Residents in Hogg Hummock said they were taken aback when the county presented its planned zoning changes on Aug. 16. In July, McIntosh County commissioners approved significant zoning changes across the county, but they left Hogg Hummock alone.

Commissioner Roger Lotson, the county commission’s only Black member, voted against the reforms and told his colleagues that he believes they would wind up in court for pushing them.

Two Southern Poverty Law Center lawyers sat in the front row, and attorney Anjana Joshi expressed “due process and equal protection concerns” about the manner the zoning rule was altered.

Sapelo Island is located around 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Savannah and is only accessible by boat. Georgia has held the majority of its 30 square miles (78 square kilometers) of mainly untouched wilderness since 1976. Hogg Hummock, sometimes known as Hog Hammock, is less than one square mile in size.

Gullah-Geechee settlements may be found from North Carolina to Florida, where they have thrived since their enslaved ancestors were emancipated after the Civil War.

Scholars believe that despite their lengthy separation from the mainland, these people kept much of their African ancestry, from their distinctive dialect to skills and crafts like cast-net fishing and basket making.

Hogg Hummock was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, the official list of the United States’ most valued historic places. population in McIntosh County, where 65% of the 11,100 population are white, rely on local government for community safeguards.

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Written by Jamil Johnson