Protocol vs. Law in the Sea Islands: Gullah/Geechee Land Use and Land Loss through an Africana Legal Studies Lens

Gianfranco Cesareo, Georgetown University


The Gullah/Geechee are the only African American population in the United States with a longstanding name demarcating them as separate people.[1]  Descendants of enslaved Africans forcibly brought to the Sea Islands to cultivate rice, indigo, and cotton plantations of European colonists,[2] the Gullah/Geechee have developed and maintained a distinctive culture and way of life with clear African roots in the years since enslavement.[3]  Largely isolated until the mid-twentieth century, the Gullah/Geechee existed within their own social structure and their culture flourished.  Since then, however, the Gullah/Geechee have been under siege, as the dominant Euro-American culture has taken an interest in transforming the Sea Islands into a lucrative location for resort-style development.[4]  As developers have sought to acquire and build on Gullah/Geechee land, there has been a clash between the Law and Western concepts of property and Gullah/Geechee culture, traditions, and governance structures—what Angi Porter terms Protocol.[5]  This battle has played out on the unequal field of the Western-centric American legal system.  The result has been what Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee nation, calls “destructionment,” as many Gullah/Geechee communities have disappeared and Gullah/Geechee culture has been left fighting against erosion and elimination.[6]  The fact that Gullah/Geechee culture is so closely tied to the land and its relationship[7] exacerbates and accelerates the process of “destructionment.”  

This paper seeks to employ Porter’s Africana Legal Studies framework to examine Gullah/Geechee Protocol as it relates to land, as well as its interaction with and stifling by Western property law.[8]  It will proceed in five parts.  Part I will provide an overview of the framework and methodologies of Africana Legal Studies that this paper utilizes and relies on its analysis.  Part II will provide a brief background of the Gullah/Geechee, with a particular focus on their African heritage and cultural development.  Part III will then attempt to identify and examine Gullah/Geechee Protocol, particularly as it relates to land.  Part IV will bring in the Law, explaining the Western legal frameworks at work, focusing primarily on heirs’ property, and detailing the disastrous effects of the clash between Law and Protocol.  Lastly, Part V will answer Professor Porter’s call to use the study of Protocol and the field of Africana Legal Studies to use “imagination, creativity, and ability to critique Law” to “imagine a future” resulting in “a better circumstance for African people and others.”[9]  It will briefly attempt to use this study of Gullah Geechee Protocol to point towards alternative ways in which the legal system might respect Protocol and come to reflect it, in ways that will allow the Gullah/Geechee and their culture to survive and thrive. 

I. Applying an Africana Legal Studies Framework

This paper is heavily indebted to the work of Angi Porter in developing the field of Africana Legal Studies, which employs methodologies from Africana Studies through a legal lens to study Africana “systems of thought on rules for social living, dispute resolution, addressing wrongdoing, upholding obligation, and other aspects of governance.”[10]  One premise of Africana Legal Studies is the idea that the American legal system is distinctively European, and incorporates European thought and ideas.[11]  It was not designed to incorporate or reflect non-Western world senses.[12]  Therefore, to adequately study non-Western forms of governance, it is necessary to deliberately separate this study from the “Law” and Western-centric legal thought.[13]  This section will briefly highlight Africana Legal Studies methodologies that this paper will employ, as well as their relevance to the study of Gullah/Geechee Protocol.  

A. Law and Protocol

Porter defines Protocol as “the body of African systems of governance, rules for social living.”[14]   Protocol is not law, but “something else with which law interacts.”[15]  Protocol is a general term that encompasses “many specific cultural governance systems and rules over space and time.”[16]  This paper is concerned exclusively with Gullah/Geechee Protocol, although Gullah/Geechee Protocol itself draws upon various pre-Maafa[17]continental Protocols.  The study of Law and Protocol draws upon Greg Carr’s Africana Studies Framework, which inquires into six conceptual categories to study “the African experience across time and space.”[18]  The first three of these categories—social structure, governance, and ways of knowing—are particularly relevant to the study of Law and Protocol.[19] 

Social structure concerns the interactions between Law and Protocol, interrogating the “legal landscape” in which African people exist.[20]  The Gullah/Geechee existed within and experienced the violence of the Western legal landscape during enslavement.  Additionally, it might be said that from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, the Gullah/Geechee created and lived within their own social structure.[21]  This paper, however, will primarily examine the social structure in which the Gullah/Geechee have found themselves from the mid-twentieth century to the present day, since the dominant Euro-American culture, along with its Law, has interacted with Protocol and forcibly asserted its presence in the Sea Islands.

Governance refers to the study of Protocol.  Gullah/Geechee Protocol involves the common rules and understandings that the Gullah/Geechee developed to govern their lives and communities.  Often, as it is for the Gullah/Geechee, Protocol is closely intertwined with Ways of Knowing.  Ways of Knowing refers to the systems African people use to “explain their existence” and inform “fundamental ways of living.”[22]   For the Gullah/Geechee, religion, spirituality, and cultural worldview informed basic cultural understandings that formed the basis for the Protocol.[23]

B. African Centeredness

African Centeredness in Africana Legal Studies aims to “break the chain” linking Africana to European ideas[24] by not studying or analyzing Protocol using the language and frameworks of Western Law.[25]  Africana Legal Studies rejects what Porter terms the Qualified Law Orientation (QLO), which treats the law as a “human universal,”[26] rather than “a particular system with particular constructs and assumptions.”[27]  The intentional use of Protocol to describe African governance systems rejects the QLO and centers on African orientation.  This paper will seek to apply an African Centered approach by rejecting legal terms of art from property law when discussing Gullah/Geechee Land Protocol.

C. Cultural Continuity

Cultural Continuity in Africana Studies emphasizes that diasporic African cultures in the Western Hemisphere are informed by continental African cultures.[28]  This cultural memory was brought to the Americas by Africans during enslavement, and in turn was passed down to subsequent generations.[29]  Africana Legal Studies is primarily concerned with tracing the “persistence of Protocol over space and time.”[30]  The Gullah/Geechee are generally considered to represent the African American culture with the highest level of cultural continuity and retention.[31]  African continuities are apparent in all aspects of Gullah/Geechee culture, including language, religion, folktales, and art.  Cultural continuity also informs Gullah/Geechee governance and ways of knowing.  When studying Gullah/Geechee Protocol, it is important to examine its African roots.  

D. Long View of History

The long view of history is premised on an understanding that the history of Africans in the Western Hemisphere didn’t begin with enslavement—rejecting the “slavery to freedom” narrative of progress—but began in Africa.[32]  In Africana Legal Studies, adhering to the long view of history means studying Protocol before enslavement, rather than assuming that only post-Maafa legal developments are relevant.[33]  While this paper’s scope and focus on Gullah/Geechee Protocol necessitates highlighting the period after enslavement, the long view of history informs this study.  It cautions against viewing the Gullah/Geechee story as one of progress, reminding that there was a time when “Protocol was unencumbered by Law.”[34]  It also informs the conscious effort to highlight Gullah/Geechee Protocol’s ties to the African continent and pre-Maafa Protocol.

II. Origins of The Gullah/Geechee People and Their Culture

To understand Gullah/Geechee Protocol, informed by the study of cultural continuity and the long view of history, it is necessary to understand the Gullah/Geechee People and their history.  The origins of “Gullah” and “Geechee” are not entirely known.  It is widely believed that “Gullah” derived from either “Angola” or “Gola,” an ethnic group found on the Windward Coast of Africa.[35]  “Geechee” is thought to either derive from the “Kissi” (also called Gizzi, Kizzi, or Gidzi) ethnic group of Upper Guinea and present-day Sierra Leone, or the Ogeechee River in Georgia.[36]  While the culture of the Gullah and Geechee are often indistinguishable, customarily “Gullah” has referred to communities in South Carolina, while “Geechee” has referred to those in Georgia.[37]  “Gullah” and “Geechee” have often been used interchangeably, while other scholars have used “Gullah-Geechee” or “Gullah Geechee” to refer to Black Sea Island cultures. Because the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition and Gullah/Geechee Nation have intentionally chosen to use “Gullah/Geechee” without a space or hyphen, this paper will use the term “Gullah/Geechee.”[38]

The Gullah/Geechee originated, and still live, on a 250-mile coastal strip running from South Carolina to Georgia, generally known as the Lowcountry and Sea Islands.[39]  The Sea Islands are separated from the mainland by a maze of salt-water creeks, tidal rivers, and marshlands.[40]  The landscape is similar to the West African coast, particularly present-day Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, and Nigeria.[41]  It is to this landscape that the ancestors of the Gullah/Geechee were forcibly taken from Africa to work on indigo, rice, and cotton plantations, and in this landscape where the Gullah/Geechee developed an independent culture and self-sufficient African-centric society.

A. African Origins

The ancestors of the Gullah/Geechee were largely brought to the Sea Islands from West and Central Africa.[42]  While no perfect record exists, William Pollitzer estimated the number of enslaved Africans brought into Charleston from each region of Africa between 1716 and 1807 through examining South Carolina records and advertisements in Charleston newspapers.[43]  Between 1716 and 1744, half of the 22,117 Africans brought into Charleston came from Angola.[44]  This early influx may have allowed for significant Angolan influence on the roots of Gullah/Geechee culture.[45]  Between 1749 and 1787, however, of the 63,210 enslaved Africans brought into Charleston, the most represented region of origin was Senegambia, followed by the Windward Coast, Angola, and the Gold Coast.[46]  Africans imported from Senegambia and the Windward Coast were often brought specifically for their knowledge of rice cultivation.[47]  In the final four years before the slave trade was officially outlawed, from 1804 to 1807, 29,461 enslaved Africans were brought through the Port of Charleston.[48]  Once again, over half originated in Angola, with sizable populations from the Windward and Gold Coasts.[49]  In total, of the over 100,000 enslaved Africans brought through Charleston before 1807, many of which were subsequently enslaved on the Sea Islands, 39 percent came from Angola, 20 percent came from Senegambia, 17 percent from the Windward Coast, 13 percent from the Gold Coast, and 6 percent from Sierra Leone.[50]

The African origins of the Gullah/Geechee can also be examined through language.[51]  Lorenzo Dow Turner’s groundbreaking work found evidence of the influence of thirty-two African languages in the Gullah/Geechee language through analyzing Gullah/Geechee words, names, and grammar.[52]  86 percent of the total vocabulary connections Turner found came, in order of frequency, from Kongo, Yoruba, Mende, Ewe, Bambara, Twi, Vai, Hausa, Fon, Umbundu, and Mandinka.[53]  Regarding grammatical and syntax similarities, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, Twi, Efik and Fante are most prevalent.[54]  Knowledge of these specific influences on the Gullah/Geechee language helps to point towards the specific African cultures that combined in the Sea Islands to create not only a distinctive language, but the distinctive Gullah/Geechee culture, as well as Gullah/Geechee Protocol.  For example, similarities to the Bamileke, Fanti, Wolof, Ashanti, Igbo, Kimbundo, Mandinka, and Bijogo can all be seen in Gullah/Geechee social structure and ways of knowledge relating to community and kinship, as well as in their residential patterns, heavily influencing Protocol.[55]   As Twining and Baird note, Gullah/Geechee culture and Protocol

should be understood in the context of the life of a people, taken unwillingly from their own homeland, who consciously and unconsciously passed on to their progeny elements of the traditional way of life which made at least survival possible in the new, alien and oppressive situation in which they found themselves.[56] 

The importance of the Gullah/Geechee’s African origins cannot be overstated.

B. Enslavement

Plantation owners in the Lowcountry and Sea Islands preferred importing their enslaved labor force directly from Africa.  They desired workers with the knowledge of cultivating rice using the lowland marshlands, forests, and intercoastal waterways as a hydrological instrument.[57]  To effectuate this preference, during the eighteenth century, the South Carolina legislature imposed a higher duty on enslaved persons imported from elsewhere.[58]  Additionally, while the Slave Trade Act of 1808 ostensibly stopped the flow of captive Africans into the Sea Islands, illegal importation continued as late as 1858.[59]  Because of their isolation, coupled with the preferences of plantation owners, the Sea Islands were a prime location for these illegal importations.[60] 

The intensive plantation work and harsh climate led to the African population quickly outnumbering the white population in South Carolina—constituting the majority as early as 1708.[61]  By 1800, there were 12,400 Africans to 2,150 whites in Georgetown District, a number that ballooned to 18,000 Africans to 2,200 whites by 1840.[62]  Similarly, in Beaufort District, enslaved Africans comprised 81.2 percent of the total population in 1860.[63]  In addition to large African majorities, there was often minimal or sometimes no white presence on the Sea Island plantations themselves.[64]  Plantation owners were often absent between March and September, and as disease concerns increased in the 1800s, white overseers were increasingly replaced by Black “drivers.”[65]  This lack of white presence and influence, along with the significant number of enslaved laborers with memories of Africa or only a generation or two removed from the continent, limited the influence of the dominant European culture, while providing an opportunity for the development of Gullah/Geechee culture with strong African influences.[66]  As early as the American revolution, the heterogenous African population in the Sea Islands and Lowcountry had developed a distinctive culture.[67]

The system of plantation work in the Sea Islands also helped contribute to the development of Gullah/Geechee culture and Protocol.  Plantation owners employed the task system, in which enslaved Africans were given a specific task to complete each day and allowed them to use any remaining time as they wanted.[68]  This element of relative autonomy allowed for a distinctive culture to develop—along with  community identity and economy, which contributed to the development of Protocol.[69]  It also helped foster a connection between the enslaved African population and the land on which they lived and worked.[70]  This connection to the land fostered during enslavement would develop into a fundamental aspect of Gullah/Geechee culture.

C. Land Acquisition

While the Gullah/Geechee had built a culture on and around the land on which they were forced to work, they were able to acquire much of the land in the Sea Islands and Lowcountry in the years following the Civil War.  White planters fled their plantations amid Union occupation in 1861.[71]  Formerly enslaved Gullah/Geechee called “contraband” first were granted individual plots of the land seized by the Union government on which they were to work as wage laborers.[72]  In 1865, however, after a meeting between President Lincoln’s war secretary and twenty Black leaders who expressed the importance of land acquisition, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Field Order 15.[73]  This order set aside the entire Sea Island region for formerly enslaved Africans, namely the Gullah/Geechee who resided there.[74]  Field Order 15 and the Freedmen’s Bureau program instituted to effectuate it were the origin of the unfulfilled promise of “forty acres and a mule” for every African American.[75]

President Andrew Johnson, however, rescinded Field Order 15 and the land redistribution program, allowing former plantation owners to reacquire their former land.[76]  Even still, Gullah/Geechee were able to gain their land back, either through private purchases, wage and labor agreements, land auctions, or state and federal land redistribution programs.[77]  Sharecropping programs in the Sea Islands were largely unsuccessful as commodity prices declined while the Gullah/Geechee prioritized their own subsistence needs.[78]  By 1870, much of the Sea Islands were owned by Gullah/Geechee people who had formerly been enslaved on them.[79]  To this day, many Gullah/Geechee families remain on the same land that their ancestors purchased in the years following the Civil War.[80]

The relative isolation of the Sea Islands, as well as the significant Black majority, allowed the Gullah/Geechee to live on the lands they acquired within their own social structure and according to their own cultural beliefs and values.[81]  There were almost no bridges connecting the islands to the mainland before 1940.[82]  Gullah-Geechee communities largely became self-sufficient—relying largely on subsistence farming, fishing, and hunting.[83]  Within this context, the Gullah/Geechee passed their land and their African culture down across generations. 

III. Gullah/Geechee Protocol: Land, Community, and Culture

“Family property is important because it’s important for heritage, and so people have something to lean on. Even if you lose everything you’ll still have some place to go . . .When it’s time for them to come back and live in the country, they know they’ve got—like I said: have something to fall back on, come back to.”[84]

“To somebody else it might be a nice place to be—it’s more than that to us.”[85]

While based on pre-Maafa continental African Protocols, Gullah/Geechee Protocol originated in the context of enslavement, in which Law and its potential to cause violence was already known.  The Gullah/Geechee operated according to Law and the dominant framework to acquire their land.[86]  Once the land firmly belonged to Gullah/Geechee families and communities, however, they rejected operating within the Western framework of the Law.[87] Instead, the Gullah/Geechee operated within their own systems of governance and social structures—what this paper calls Gullah/Geechee Protocol.  Gullah/Geechee Land Protocol is rooted in an entirely different understanding of land and property; and the relationship between land, family, and community; than that of dominant Western culture.  Understanding Gullah/Geechee Protocol as it relates to land requires an African Centered approach, removing the frame of the law.  For this reason, this section will outline key features of Gullah/Geechee Protocol while attempting as much as possible to avoid comparisons to Western legal frameworks and legal terms of art.[88]

A. Gullah/Geechee Worldview: Kinship, Community, and Land

Gullah/Geechee Protocol and cultural understandings relating to land cannot be understood without recognizing the importance of kinship and community to the Gullah/Geechee people, as well as the close ties between land, kinship, and community.  The worldview of the Gullah/Geechee can be seen through their relationships with the land, the natural world, family, community, God, and the ancestors.[89]  Along with religion, kinship provides the basis for ordering Gullah/Geechee society.[90]  The extended family is the touchstone of familial organization in Gullah/Geechee communities.[91]  The extended family includes all relatives, regardless of how remotely related, and often even includes fictive ties.[92]  It also extends across time and space, including ancestors on equal footing with living members.[93]  The extended family provides a web of interconnections that at its fullest extent comprises an entire community.[94]

The Gullah/Geechee extended family structure functions as a social entity, in which family members share resources and provide mutual support.[95]  This support may take the form of providing foods, goods, economic support, and even raising the children of extended family members.[96]   This web of kinship ties and support created a socially cohesive community.[97]  In addition to material support and security, the extended family also provides for the strengthening of culture and community.  Within the kinship community, cultural values and collective memory are instilled in younger generations through oral tradition.[98] 

Integral to the maintenance of a strong sense of kinship and community is the Gullah/Geechee relationship to their land.[99]  According to historian Wilbur Cross, the “[k]ey to Gullah culture is a complex but intimate relationship to the land upon which they labored and which gave them the basics of their survival.”[100]  If kinship ties are in part based on and strengthened by the sharing of resources and cultural meaning, land represents the most valuable resource in Gullah/Geechee culture.[101]  Emory Campbell described the cultural importance of Gullah/Geechee land as providing “a sense of place . . . central to holding families together,” noting that in Gullah/Geechee culture, the “physical connection” to the land is “vitally important.”[102]  Campbell attributes the strength of Gullah/Geechee heritage to “the bond between the people and the land.”[103]  Each generation inherits not only the land but a distinctive Gullah/Geechee way of living on it, with it, and relating to it. 

The Gullah/Geechee relationship with land goes far beyond viewing it as a communal resource or location on which culture is reproduced.  The land is sacred, an important part of the community itself, and a key component of Gullah/Geechee cultural identity.[104]  According to a Gullah/Geechee resident of Saint Helena Island, “We think of land as part of the family. It’s part of us, the land itself. I always tell people: the land is our family and the water is our bloodline.”[105]  Goodwine (now Queen Quet) provided a succinct view of the importance of land to Gullah/Geechee culture and ways of knowing;

For Gullahs the land is an extension of themselves.  Throughout the history of Gullah and Geechee people, land has played a central role in their everyday lives.  All aspects of Gullah and Geechee culture are tied to the land, and it serves as a psychological reminder of their connection with the ancestors and their communal plantation life.  In their use of medicinal plants and herbal remedies, their knowledge of the natural environment is essential.  Religious sermons of the past and present emphasize strong cultural ties to the land.  The land has supplied these populations with nourishment for their bodies, as well as self-sufficiency, since the days of emancipation; and land ownership after emancipation induced autonomy and pride . . . where possible the Gullah and Geechee people of South Carolina and Georgia remain tied to their land in many ways.[106]

Because of the cultural importance of land and place to the Gullah/Geechee, to continue to preserve Gullah/Geechee culture, it must be preserved on the land where it developed. [107]

Gullah/Geechee relationships with the land is rooted both in African heritage brought by the ancestors and the experience on the Sea Islands.  Precedent African cultures also consider land to have a deep personal and social meaning.[108]  There is also a recognition that the land on which the Gullah/Geechee live is the same land on which their ancestors were enslaved and later worked to acquire to safeguard and reproduce their culture, as well as the land that has provided and allowed the Gullah/Geechee to survive and achieve self-sufficiency.[109]  This is of deep cultural significance due to the important role that ancestors play in the Gullah/Geechee family and community structure.  Accompanying the cultural importance of land is the understanding that humans are to coexist with the natural world and interact with it in a nonexploitative manner, which encompasses interactions with land.[110]  This cultural belief is particularly important when considering Gullah/Geechee attitudes regarding land development.

B. Governance and Social Structure on Gullah/Geechee Land

In Gullah/Geechee communities, the land belongs to the community and extended family collectively, rather than to an individual or a nuclear family.[111]  This collective ownership extends beyond the extended family members currently living on the land, but to any Gullah/Geechee descendant with the requisite familial connection.[112]  In certain cases, over two hundred descendants may have a claim to ownership of and access to a plot of family land.[113]  Collective ownership of land provides each family member with access to a safety net and a connection to their family and culture.[114]  Family land is therefore governed as a collective resource—or a commons—open to all family members.[115] 

An informal system of governance informed by cultural values and ways of knowing has allowed for the management of Gullah/Geechee land across multiple generations.[116]  A shared vision about the purpose and importance of ancestral land to family and culture guides family members in maintaining it.[117]  Within this governance structure, elders and family members who actually reside on the land hold greater power and decision-making authority, but the principle guiding any activity on the land is the importance of maintaining the land for the entire family according to the wishes of the ancestors.[118]  Among non-resident family members, there is often still a recognition of the land’s importance to maintaining strong kinship and cultural ties, and non-residents may contribute by paying a share of taxes, or helping with maintenance of the property.[119] 

The function of land for the Gullah/Geechee is also apparent in the way that it is spatially organized.  Each family’s plot of land is typically defined by a compound organization, on which several homes are arranged in close proximity to each other, with less than forty feet between them.[120]  These homes often are arranged such that each opens to a shared courtyard area where families congregate.[121]  The residential compound is often located in close proximity to a communal garden or farmland.[122]  Within this compound structure, families are interdependent, and work often takes on a cooperative nature.[123]  Additionally, while residential structures are not built adjacent to water, all members of each Gullah/Geechee community have a right to access the water due to its cultural significance and importance for subsistence.[124]  This again demonstrates the primary purpose of land for the Gullah/Geechee is to reproduce culture and benefit the community.

This structural arrangement has been compared to that of an “African village,”[125] and parallels have been drawn between Gullah/Geechee residence patterns and West African societies.[126]  Underscoring its importance, there is evidence that household structures were rearranged in this compound pattern immediately following their purchase by Gullah/Geechee ancestors after enslavement—residential structures were moved from rows on either side of streets to the center of each family plot.[127]  This residential pattern has served to foster community and culture. It has emphasized the importance of kinship and the purpose of a family’s land for strengthening these bonds, reproducing culture across generations, and allowing for the maintenance of a close-knit mutual support system. 

C. Protocol of Land Across Generations

Because of the cultural importance of Gullah/Geechee land, as well as the important functions that it plays in preserving and reproducing other aspects of Gullah/Geechee culture and community, retaining family land is of utmost importance.  Land is not an economic asset or commodity, but is intended to continue serving the same family and cultural functions for which it was acquired.[128]  Because land is not held individually, but belongs to a family collectively, when an elder dies, land has traditionally been left to all remaining family members without any written documentation.[129]  Oral communications with elders and the use of family compounds were often used to establish ownership and rights of residence or land use.[130] 

Most important, however, in passing land to family members across generations has been the cultural importance of family and culture.  Because ancestors are viewed as members of the family on par with living members,[131] their intentions regarding the land are of utmost importance. [132]  The intentions of Gullah/Geechee ancestors were largely to retain the land for the benefit of family and preservation of culture.[133]  Along with the land, Gullah/Geechee ancestors have passed down a way of relating to the land and working on it.[134]  Additionally, because land plays a central role in Gullah/Geechee cultural understandings and ways of meaning, family members have safeguarded and passed down their land to serve these ends.[135]  Because land is owned by families collectively and there is a strong community and cultural cohesion around land and its functions within and across generations, the Gullah/Geechee were able to pass on their land and culture across generations according to Protocol for decades.  These practices that allowed for the retention of land and culture, however, have become threatened after the Law re-entered the Sea Islands.

IV. Destructionment: Law Returns to the Sea Islands

“I never wanted to be anywhere else. I thought I would die here . . . I feel the loss in my bones. I feel like a part of my body is gone, but I’m still living.”[136]

“Developers just come in and roll over whoever is there . . . move them out or roll over them and change their culture, change their way of life, destroy the environment, and therefore the culture has to be changed.”[137]

“How can an Anglo person gonna approach a black person in the South, on a sea island, and say, ‘You’re gonna do what now?’ So, you gonna give me $10,000 to sell my whole family. That’s what you just said.  So now all kinds of collective consciousness of slavery comes back.”[138] 

“We were born and raised here, and we are not going to . . . let anyone come and take it from us.  This land is like a million dollars to us.  And if one of us hurts, everyone hurts.”[139]

While the Gullah/Geechee developed a distinctive African-based creole culture and social structure, because of their geographical location in the United States, the Western-centric social structure of the Law still loomed over the Sea Islands.  The Gullah/Geechee were acutely aware of the Law’s potential to inflict violence against them and their culture, particularly Property Law, which functioned as a “dehumanizing enslaver” and “gate-keeper of plantation society” for Gullah/Geechee ancestors.[140]  The creation and persistence of Gullah/Geechee culture and Protocol can be seen as an act of resistance against dominant Western ways of thinking and knowing, Euro-American social structures, and the Law.[141]    The isolation of the Sea Islands allowed the Gullah/Geechee to operate within their own systems of Protocol largely free from the influence of the Law—until the Western-centric dominant American society recognized the potential economic value in the Sea Islands and Lowcountry.[142]  Until the mid-twentieth century, “[t]he only people who wanted the land were Gullah,” according to Campbell.[143]  Developers armed with air conditioning, mosquito sprays, and the capacity to build roads and bridges changed this, as they sought to build resorts and vacation homes for affluent whites on Gullah/Geechee lands.[144]  Their most potent weapon in dispossessing the Gullah/Geechee of their land was, and remains, the Law.  The clash between Law and Protocol has played out within the American legal system in which Law is the universal baseline, and Protocol is discredited as invalid and invisible. Predictably and tragically, the results have been disastrous for the Gullah/Geechee.

A. Property Law Framework: Heirs Property

Gullah/Geechee land passed down to surviving family members without a written instrument when the original titleholder died, a pattern continuing across generations and in accordance with Gullah/Geechee Land Protocol.[145] Property Law, however, views the land as “heirs’ property” when the titleholder has died intestate—without a probated will.[146]  Heirs’ property is considered to be held by all of the titleholder’s “heirs” as tenants in common.[147]  In a tenancy in common, the Law recognizes each tenant in common as having an “undivided fractional interest” and “unity of possession” in the property, meaning that each co-tenant has a right to use or possess the entire property, but only has an ownership interest in a fraction of the land.[148]  There is additionally no right of survivorship in a tenancy in common, meaning that as each tenant dies intestate, their ownership interest in the land descends to their heirs, rather than their co-tenants.[149]  The result is that the Law considers each parcel of Gullah/Geechee land, passed down through Protocol rather than Law across generations, to be held in a tenancy in common by a large number of “heirs.”  It is worth noting that the individuals whom the Law considers heirs often do not encompass all kin who have a right to the land according to Gullah/Geechee Protocol.[150]  Additionally, there is no differentiation in interest accounting for residency, work done on, or other contributions to the property.[151] 

Tenancies in common may be dissolved by partition, through which the property will either be partitioned “in kind,” dividing the land among heirs or “by sale,” in which the property is sold and the proceeds are divided according to the fractional interests of tenants in common.[152]  Any single tenant in common can petition a court for partition,[153] and while the Law supposedly has a “preference” for partition in kind, most partition actions result in the sale—and therefore the loss—of the property.[154]  Each heir’s individual interest in the property held in a tenancy in common, however, may be freely conveyed without consultation or approval of other co-tenants.[155]

It is worth briefly examining the theory behind this Property Law doctrine and how it operates, as it illuminates certain aspects of the dominant Western worldview regarding land and property.  At its core, Property Law views land as a commodity and reflects the understanding that the value of land is its economic value.[156]  John Locke’s influential labor theory of property considers the role of the state, through the Law, as promoting the “efficient allocation of resources” by protecting property rights of those who produce value through their use of the property.[157]  The “value” considered in this theory is economic value.  Property Law’s emphasis on clear title and deeds is a way of ensuring that property is visible on the market, which supposedly will allocate land to its “highest and best use.”[158]  The value theory of property has also been asserted to support partition sales of property held by tenants in common, as the Law considers “fragmented shares” held by many individual co-tenants less “valuable” regardless of any subjective value land might hold for those with ownership interests.[159]

The desire to provide market access to real property through dissolution motivated the Law’s original preference for tenancies in common over other co-ownership regimes when property was descended without a probated will in the United States.[160]  In essence, the Law expressed a preference for the free alienability of land.[161]  This reflects the dominant Western view of land as a commodity.  Because a tenancy in common allowed for partition at the will of a single co-tenant, it facilitated the break-up and alienability of real property.  Because the primary value of land is its commodity value—as opposed to any cultural, social, emotional, or spiritual value—the law considers it wholly fungible with other land and its monetary value.  For this reason, the law considers partition by sale a fair and equitable result.  The South Carolina Court of Appeals of Equity explicitly recognized this in the 1845 case Pell v. Ball.[162] 

Pell v. Ball is also significant because it concerned not only the partition of property, but of enslaved Africans.[163]  The court cites the extensive history of “making partition of slaves . . . familiarly and habitually, for the greater portion of a century.”[164]  It is not a coincidence that the legal doctrines originally used to allocate Africans as property to realize their economic value—disrupting families and communities in the process—are now used to commit acts of violence against Black families by effectuating land loss and in turn cultural destruction.  These historical roots underscore the reality that the Law was not designed for or by Africans, but rather justified their dehumanization while serving Euro-American interests.[165] 

B. The Effects of Law on the Gullah/Geechee

To put into focus the ways that the Law disregarded and trampled Gullah/Geechee Protocol to catalyze catastrophic loss of land and culture, it is perhaps most effective to detail some of the Law’s interactions with the Gullah/Geechee since the mid-twentieth century.

The use of Law to dispossess the Gullah/Geechee is often seen as stemming out of Charles Fraser and other developers’ arrival on the islands to build resorts marketed towards affluent white northerners in the 1950s.[166]  Fraser launched the development of the Sea Pines “plantation” resort on Hilton Head Island.[167]  At the time of Fraser’s arrival nearly all Hilton Head residents were Gullah/Geechee.[168]  By 2000, the island was almost entirely white.[169]  In order to build Sea Pines, Fraser had to acquire land from Gullah/Geechee families, who had been living on the island according to Protocol since the Civil War.[170]  A graduate of Yale Law School, Fraser marshaled the power of the Law to dispossess the Gullah/Geechee.[171]  In consultation with his former Yale professor who was an expert on land use, he developed legal strategies to create and retain a resort community on Gullah/Geechee land.[172]  These strategies were devastatingly effective—making Hilton Head emblematic among the Gullah/Geechee of “massive social displacement and economic ‘swamping’ of Gullah/Geechee people and their culture.”[173]  Other wealthy white real estate “developers”[174] soon followed Fraser’s lead across the Sea Islands.[175] 

Exploitation of Protocol has been a recurring theme in the use of the Law to dispossess the Gullah/Geechee.[176]  Because the Gullah/Geechee concepts of living on and relating to land was so different than those recognized and enshrined in Law, elders approached by developers with legal documents and briefcases filled with money were often unaware that by signing the documents they were giving their land away.[177] 

A primary strategy to dispossess the Gullah/Geechee has been to exploit their reliance on Protocol in their use of land through weaponizing the heirs’ property system.  Developers recognized that the Law would not recognize Protocol, but view Gullah/Geechee land as heirs’ property, to which many heirs have accumulated ownership interests over multiple generations.[178]  They search for “weak links” and distant relatives—often far removed from their ties to the land and their ancestral culture—who might be willing to sell their shares.[179]  The developers then approach the courts seeking partition sales.[180]  Partition sales are often granted, as courts find that upwards of fifty to one hundred heirs have an ownership interest in the parcel of land under the Law, and determine that it therefore cannot be partitioned in kind.[181]  Additionally, when courts consider whether to order partition by sale, they generally only consider economic factors, rather than other less “tangible” factors like effects on family, community, and culture, that are at the heart of Gullah/Geechee conceptions of and connection with land.[182]  For example, after a court dispossessed Johnny Rivers, a lifelong resident on a seventeen-acre parcel in Cainhoy, South Carolina, of his land through a partition sale, his motion for a rehearing emphasizing the importance of his “emotional and economic attachment to the land” was denied.[183]  His arguments were considered “directly contrary to established legal principles” and “a dilatory tactic designed to prevent the fair and just resolution of this case.”[184]  Rivers’ case demonstrates that Gullah/Geechee land dispossession was—and remains—entirely legal and just according to the Law.

In addition to weaponizing the Law by forcing partition sales, White developers employed other legally sanctioned strategies to dispossess the Gullah/Geechee of their ancestral land.  Once “destructionment” was underway and resorts had been built, the dominant Western culture considered the land more “valuable” and taxes on the land were raised.[185]  These tax hikes have often been close to impossible for Gullah/Geechee residents to meet—often rising over 300 percent in a single year—and have forced their land to go up for sale at tax auctions.[186]  Fraser explicitly used zoning ordinances to increase the tax base and drive out Gullah/Geechee communities, allowing for the creation of “a secluded enclave for the wealthy.”[187]  While historically, many Gullah/Geechee residents were not notified that their taxes were due and their land was going to tax auction, this nefarious practice has often not been necessary—Law on its own provides the mechanism for dispossession if it is allowed to operate how it is supposed to.[188]  Low density zoning ordinances have also been used to prevent Gullah/Geechee families from arranging residences on their land in the traditional compound pattern.[189]  Other zoning ordinances following incorporation have made important cultural practices like hunting, fishing, and farming illegal.[190]

The result of the Law’s operation on Gullah/Geechee lands has been what Queen Quet calls “destructionment” and “cultural genocide.”[191]  For the Gullah/Geechee, the loss of land equates to the loss of culture.[192]  On Seabrook and Kiawah Islands, Gullah/Geechee culture has all but been eradicated.[193]  On Hilton Head, only a handful of Gullah/Geechee neighborhoods remain,[194] while much of the island is now comprised of golf courses, resorts, and condos.[195]  There is only one remaining Gullah/Geechee community—Hog Hammock—on Sapelo Island.[196]  This story of the disappearing Gullah/Geechee and their culture is reproduced throughout the Sea Islands that are increasingly populated with resorts and vacation homes.  This loss of land amounts to nothing short of violence against those who view land central to their culture and identity.  The loss of land for the Gullah/Geechee transcends the material, representing cultural, spiritual, and ancestral losses.[197]

For Fraser and the dominant worldview that he represents, however, it is “wonderful” when the Gullah/Geechee sell their land.[198]  The disconnect between Property Law and Land Protocol could not be clearer than in Fraser’s comments on Gullah/Geechee land loss.  Only when land is viewed as a commodity could someone be “positively jubilant, when a black farm family that has held land for five generations . . . sells a portion of their heritage that was maintained with great struggle and great effort” simply because they sold the land for more than it was “worth” when it was acquired generations earlier.[199]  In the words of longtime Phillips Island resident Johnathan Ford, “For these people . . . property is just an investment.  But for us, property is home.  You live, you grow up, you die, and you pass it on.”[200]  Benjamin Dennis IV, a Gullah/Geechee descendant who has resisted requests to sell his family’s land on Daniel Island remarked, “Money don’t mean nothing.  It’s about heritage and where you’re from.”[201] 

Even where the Gullah/Geechee persist and have retained their land, their culture has been disrupted.  As Goodwine eloquently writes:

The Gullahs that still live in the Sea Islands and remember the islands before the fifties see them through very different eyes . . .  They remember the fields that they used to play in, and the landings to the creeks that are now locked away from them by gates and NO TRESPASSING signs.

. . . The Gullahs and Geechees do not see the islands as the beautiful places in which they grew up.  Many of them have to hold back the tears and swallow the pain as they come home from the mainland for a visit or drive to work in Hilton Head and other resorts each day.  Those who live on Sapelo and Daufauskie have to travel by ferry to be greeted by sorrow as they go to work for and with people that do not have any knowledge of or concern for the stories that are all around them—the African, Gullah, and Geechee stories.

They can practically hear their ancestors scream out their stories that are buried beneath the pavement.[202]

 Formerly self-sufficient and able to rely on the land, environment, family, and community to provide, the Gullah/Geechee find themselves in a “money economy.”[203]  Many are forced to work in low paying seasonal service sector jobs simply to struggle to pay their taxes,[204] in what has been termed “a virtual reincarnation of the plantation system.”[205]  Resort development has also damaged the natural environment that has been so important to the Gullah/Geechee.[206]  The fences and gates of resort developments have restricted access to the ocean, traditional hunting and fishing areas, and even burial grounds.[207]  The Law and the Western social structures it carries with it have caused social and cultural disruptions and inhibited the reproduction of Gullah/Geechee culture, making the Gullah/Geechee, in Campbell’s words, an “endangered species.”[208]

V. The Promise of Africana Legal Studies in the Sea Islands: Disrupting Law with Protocol

“Mus’ tek cyear a de root fa’ heal da tree”[209]

Much of the literature, particularly the legal literature, surrounding heirs’ property and Gullah/Geechee land loss accepts dominant Western Property Law regimes as the unquestioned baseline.[210]  The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act[211] and federal Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Act[212] share this same feature.  In other words, they operate within the Qualified Legal Orientation, accepting the law as a human universal “to which African governance systems must aspire,” and “against which African governance systems must be measured.”[213]  This scholarship should not be discredited, as it is well-intentioned and often plays an important role in combatting the Law’s potential for violence against the Gullah/Geechee by envisioning ways to use the Law to protect Gullah/Geechee land and culture.  Various legal organizations employ a similar strategy “on the ground” to help Gullah/Geechee keep their land.  For example, the Center for Heirs Property Preservation provides legal education and legal services to help Gullah/Geechee preserve their land.[214]  The practical importance of these efforts cannot be overstated, as the struggle to preserve Gullah/Geechee land and culture is ongoing, and currently takes place within a legal regime that does not recognize or respect Protocol.

If through these efforts, however, we fail to seriously recognize and study Gullah/Geechee Protocol, there is a risk that the Law will only further be entrenched as the unquestioned baseline and proper form of relating to land, while Gullah/Geechee Land Protocol will be discredited and erased.  This is important because Gullah/Geechee Protocol is an integral part of Gullah/Geechee culture, and additionally, it is this same discrediting and disregarding of Protocol that has allowed for the legal theft of Gullah/Geechee land.  There is evidence that a failure to consider Gullah/Geechee Protocol as an African-based form of governing land use and ownership equal to Law has inadvertently had a negative effect on the Gullah/Geechee people and culture.  For example, when the American Bar Association refers to heirs’ property as the “worst problem you’ve never heard of,”[215] implicit in their statement is the idea that Gullah/Geechee ways of holding land and passing it down across generations according to Protocol is somehow a “problem.”  The “problem” is defined as Protocol, not Law—which takes advantage of Protocol to dispossess families of their land. 

The elevating of Law and discrediting of Protocol is apparent in the discourse surrounding the Gullah/Geechee reluctance of making wills.  Various reasons are often provided for why Black landowners generally, and Gullah/Geechee specifically make wills at a much lower rate than Whites—reasons which themselves have been questioned for lack of empirical support.[216]  One common explanation is Gullah/Geechee “superstitions” about wills hastening death.[217]  Considering Protocol, what are regarded as “superstitions” are actually deeply held cultural beliefs that inform Protocol.[218]  Another explanation is lack of legal knowledge and education.[219]  This explanation creates and feeds into a deficit narrative, suggesting that the Gullah/Geechee are incapable of making wills, or otherwise would do so.  Distrust of the legal systems is often also cited.[220]  While the Gullah/Geechee do have negative impressions and distrust of the legal system, this alone does not explain their reluctance to make wills.  This conversation leaves out Protocol—the fact that the Gullah/Geechee have their own way of governing land use rooted in their own culture and value system.  The decision not to make wills almost certainly results much more from faith in Protocol than any other reason centered around Law, a system of governance which is not their own.[221]

Most importantly, a failure to consider Protocol fails to recognize the cultural importance of Gullah/Geechee relationships with land.  It fails to seriously consider that families have chosen to continue adhering to traditional ways of owning property communally as a family not because of indifference, lack of knowledge, or stubbornness, but because of the cultural importance derived from those practices.[222]  Protocol allows one to see Gullah/Geechee land use and governance as an alternative non-exploitative, anti-capitalistic communal form of property ownership that emphasizes close relationships with family, ancestors, and the land itself and is intimately connected to culture.  Working for the preservation of Gullah/Geechee land and culture involves heeding Queen Quet’s instruction to “put pressure on Western society to change its ways and behaviors on the land.”[223]  One way to accomplish this is by recognizing and elevating Gullah/Geechee Protocol as an equally valid and alternative way of thinking about and governing land and property use and relations. 


Recognition of Gullah/Geechee Protocol as a deeply rooted African-based way of governing land use might be used to subvert and reimagine legal systems that have long viewed land as a commodity through a Western-centric lens.  The deeply problematic and violent nature of Western-centric Property Law is apparent in the destructionment it has wrought on the Gullah/Geechee and their culture.  While efforts through Law are a useful tool to combat this destructionment in the short term, securing survival of the Gullah/Geechee requires wholesale changes to the way that society thinks about and values land and property.  Gullah/Geechee Protocol provides a roadmap for another way.  It is imperative for the Gullah/Geechee—as well as for other vulnerable populations—that this alternative is recognized and incorporated into our systems of governance, social structures, and cultural understandings. 

[1] Kamille Wolff Dean, Corporate Social Responsibility and Conservation: The Preservation of Ecology and Culture to Sustain the Sea Islands, 37 Wm.. & Mary Env’t L. & Pol’y Rev. 375, 376 (2013).

[2] Lorenzo Dow Turner, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect 4 (1949).

[3] Patricia Jones-Jackson, When Roots Die: Endangered Traditions on the Sea Islands 1 (1987) (“They had managed to retain so many more remnants of their West African ancestry than African-Americans in other parts of the country.”); Mary A. Twining & Kenneth E. Baird, Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia vii (1991) (“Among the Afro-American groups in North America, the cultures of the Sea Islands is that most closely related to certain African cultures.”).

[4] Wilbur Cross, Gullah Culture in America 57–58 (2008).

[5] Angi Porter, Africana Legal Studies: A New Theoretical Approach to Law & Protocol, 27 Mich. J. Race & L. 249 (2022).

[6] Marquetta L. Goodwine, Destructionment: Treddin’ een We Ancestas’ Teahs, in The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah Roots of African American Culture 164, 164–67 (Marquetta L. Goodwine & The Clarity Press Gullah Project eds. 1998). Goodwine, now “Queen Quet,” uses the word “destructionment” rather than “development” noting that to “develop” something means “to grow or expand” while “destruction” means “the cause of ruin.”  She notes that the so-called “development” on the Sea Islands has not benefitted the Gullah/Geechee, but “only brought ruin to their culture, their language, their customs and their family ties.” Id. at 167.

[7] See, e.g., Cross, supra note 4, at 47 (“Key to Gullah culture is a complex but intimate relationship to the land upon which they labored and which gave them the basics of their survival.”).

[8] Porter, supra note 5, at 286 (“Legal scholars . . . can consider how [Law and Protocol] collided and comment on how Law operated to restrict, constrain, punish, stifle, interrupt, inhibit, exploit, manipulate, or embrace Protocol.”).

[9] Id. at 319.

[10] Id. at 252.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. at 282-283.

[14] Id. at 273.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. at 284.

[17] Maafa meaning “the great suffering of our people” or “disaster” refers to enslavement and colonization of African peoples by Europeans. Id. at 9.

[18] Greg Carr, Teaching and Studying the African(a) Experience: Definitions and Categories, in School District Of Philadelphia, Lessons in Africana Studies: African-American History Course 12 (2006).

[19] Porter, supra note 5, at 273.

[20] Id.

[21] See Jones-Jackson, supra note 3, at 22 (“The ways of the Sea Islanders . . . offer valuable insights into an Afro-American culture which has had relatively little contact with the customs of the white majority until very recent years.”); Juanita Jackson et. al, The Sea Islands as a Cultural Resource, 5 The Black Scholar 32, 42 (1974) (“We constantly encounter elderly Blacks whose knowledge of and acquaintance with whites is very limited. They have not had to interact with whites or the majority culture in the same way as Blacks in the other parts of this country.”).

[22] Carr, supra note 18, at 15.

[23] Mary Arnold Twining, Time is Like a River: The World View of the Sea Island People, in Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia 89, 91 (Mary A. Twining & Kenneth E. Baird eds., 1991).

[24] Porter, supra note 5, at 257 (citing Jacob Carruthers, Preface to Mdw Ntr: Divine Speech; A Historiographical Reflection of African Deep Thought from the Time of Pharaohs to The Present xviii (1995)).

[25] Id. at 27.

[26] Id. at 34 (“We are left thinking that (Western) Law is a universal and absolute truth to which African governance systems must aspire, against which African governance systems must be measured.”).

[27] Id. at 36.

[28] Id. at 19. 

[29] Id.

[30] Id. at 30 (“scholars applying the Continuity approach will trace the origins of Protocol in the Western Hemisphere backward in time to the African continent—and trace continental African Protocols forward in time through the engagement of diasporic Africans with their governance traditions, and through the transmission, adaptation, adjustment, improvision, combination, and synthesis of African culture to the present.”).

[31] Turner, supra note 2 (detailing the African origins of the Gullah language); Mary A. Twining & Keith E. Baird, Sea Island Culture: Matrix of the African American Family, in Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia 1, 2 (Mary A. Twining & Kenneth E. Baird eds., 1991) (“. . . the Sea Islands, by reason of their relative isolation from the mainland, constituted a distinctive region the inhabitants of which exhibited the highest number of cultural retentions to be found in the United States.”); Janie Gilliard Moore, A James Island Childhood: Africanisms Among Families of the Sea Islands of Charleston, South Carolina, in Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia 107, 108 (Mary A. Twining & Kenneth E. Baird eds., 1991) (“For we are that unique group of people, that remnant which has maintained to the highest degree evidence of ethnic authenticity, of African cultural continuity.”).

[32] Porter, supra note 5, at 259-260.

[33] Id. at 38.

[34] Id.

[35] Michael Gomez, Exchanging our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identity in the Colonial and Antebellum South 102 (supporting this supposed origin with slave ads referring to Africans from “Gola country” and “Gulla” country, as well as from “Angola.”); William Pollitzer, The Gullah People and Their African Heritage 4–6, 107–08 (1999) (“The first known appearance in print of a word resembling ‘Gulla’ was in the South Carolina Gazette, May 12, 1739, in an ad for a runaway, ‘Golla Harry.’ John Bennet claimed that it was derived from the Gola tribe of Liberia, one source of slaves brought into Charleston. Sam Stoney attributed it to Angola, citing a passage in the trial of blacks involved in the Denmark Vesey rebellion of 1822 that referred to a ring leader as ‘Gullah Jack’ and his company of ‘Gullah or Angola Negrores.’”); Phillip Morgan, African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry: The Atlantic World of the Gullah Geechee 2 (“Gullah . . . probably deriv[es] from Angola, or possibly the Gola of the Windward Coast, or perhaps a combination of the two.”).

[36] Gomez, supra note 35, at 102 (“the word Geechee . . . may also be derived from the Kissi . . . of Sierra Leone. Then again, the term may have a more immediate source—the Ogechee River.”); Jones-Jackson, supra note 3, at 133 (“Geechee may be derived from the Gidzi, a language and people in the Kissy country of Liberia.”); Melissa Hargrove, Overview and Synthesis of Scholarly Literature, in National Park Service, Low Country Gullah Culture Special Resource Study and Final Environmental Impact Statement F1, F4 (2005) (“a number of scholars suggest the term is derived from the Ogeechee River area of Georgia”).

[37]Hargrove, supra note 36, at 13; Morgan, supra note 35, at 2.

[38] Queen Quet, Hilton Head Island’s Gentrified Genocide, Gullah/Geechee Nation (Nov. 13, 2021), (“When I started the ‘Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition’ in 1994, placing ‘Gullah/Geechee’ together with a slash and not allowing a space between the words was intentionally designed to insure that there was no space between us. Being a mathematician, I also know that intention of ‘-‘ and did not want anything else subtracted from us and would not use that symbol either. There is meaning and value in all symbols including placing a space between ‘Gullah’ and ‘Geechee’ or dropping one word and not using both in the historical chronological order of their existence in a united way. Using ‘Gullah/Geechee’ was a new ‘development’ given that this was the first time in world history and our story that anyone had ever put the two words together. The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition was the first organization to exist with the words Gullah/Geechee united and the first to ever place a website on the internet and begin a listserve focused on Gullah/Geechee culture and maintaining and reclaiming Gullah/Geechee land ownership.”).

[39] Pollitzer, supra note 35, at 4–6. Sea Islands that have had significant Gullah communities include Bull, Sullivans Island, James Island, Johns Island, Wadmalaw Island, Estido Island, St. Helena Island, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, Hilton Head Island, Daufuskie Island, Skidaway Island, Ossabaw Island, St. Catherines Island, Sapelo Island, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, and Cumberland Island. Id.

[40] Id. at 4; Hargrove, supra note 36, at 1.

[41] Jones-Jackson, supra note 3, at 7.

[42] See William S. Pollitzer, The Relationship of Gullah Speaking People of Coastal South Carolina and Georgia to Their African Ancestors, in The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah Roots of African American Culture 66 (Marquetta L. Goodwine & The Clarity Press Gullah Project eds. 1998); Cross, supra note 4, at 15 (“The Gullah people are the descendants of African ethic groups . . . including the Mandingo, Bamana, Wolof, Fula, Temne, Mende, Vai, Akan, Ewe, Bakongo, and Kimbundu.”)

[43] Pollitzer, supra note 35, at 42–43.

[44] Id.

[45] Id. at 46. (“Members of a homogeneous group who came to an area first and in large numbers had an opportunity to establish their common speech and culture; those who followed in the same area, especially if they came in modest numbers over a period of time, were compelled to adjust to the earlier ethnic group.”).

[46] Id. at 44. Of enslaved Africans with known origins, 25.2% were from Senegambia, 16.7% were from the Windward Coast, 14.6% were from Angola, and 13.1% were from the Gold Coast. Id.

[47] Pollitzer, supra note 42, at 58.

[48] Id. at 43.

[49] Id. at 45. 52% of Africans with known origins were imported from Angola, 17.9% from the Windward Coast, and 11.4% from the Gold Coast. Id.

[50] Id. at 43.

[51] Lorenzo Dow Turner’s research into the African origins of the Gullah language marked the first true attempt to connect the Gullah/Geechee to their West African origin. Emory S. Campbell, Gullah Geechee Culture: Respected, Understood and Striving: Sixty Years after Lorenzo Dow Turner’s Masterpiece, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, 41 The Black Scholar 77, 78; see Turner, supra note 2.

[52] Pollitzer, supra note 42, at 59 (citing Turner, supra note 2). Turner “listed 3,595 personal names with their similarities to terms in non-English languages, almost all of them African, 251 other words used in conversation, and some 92 expressions heard only in stories, songs, and prayers.  He described the syntax, morphological features, word formation, sounds, and intonations that characterize Gullah.” Pollitzer, supra note 35, at 109.

[53] Id. at 115.

[54] Id. at 119.

[55] Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson, Family Life on Wadmalaw Island, in Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia 57, 76 (Mary A. Twining & Kenneth E. Baird eds., 1991).

[56] Twining & Baird, supra note 31, at 2–3.

[57] Brian Grabbatin, “The Land is our Family and the Water is our Bloodline”: The Dispossession and Preservation of Heirs’ Property in the Gullah-Geechee Communities of Lowcountry South Carolina 69 (Dissertation) (2016),

[58] Jackson, Slaughter & Blake, supra note 21, at 154. 

[59] Turner, supra note 2, at 1.

[60] Jackson et. al, supra note 21, at 155. 

[61] Elizabeth Brabec & Sharon Richardson, A Clash of Cultures: The Landscape of the Sea Island Gullah, 26 Landscape J. 151, 153 (“By 1708, blacks exceeded whites in the South Carolina colony and by 1740 outnumbered them two to one.”).

[62] Jackson et. al, supra note 21, at 154.

[63] Brabec & Richardson, supra note 61, at 153.

[64] Id.

[65] Id. (“Although the practice of leaving the plantations without a white presence was illegal, an analysis of the census records between 1790 and 1820 indicate that up to 25 percent of the plantations in Beaufort District were without white oversight, while figures in the entire Lowcountry region (Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, and Georgetown) ranged as high as 18.9 percent.”). While these drivers were often shunned as untrustworthy by their communities, sometimes the drivers would play a “dual role” and return to their communities as informers once the whites left the islands. Goodwine, supra note 6, at 166.

[66] Id.

[67] Charles Joyner, Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture 276 (1999).

[68] Brabec & Richardson, supra note 61, at 154. 

[69] Id.

[70]Hargrove, supra note 36, at 39; Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 72 (“If you look at enslavement, our blood, sweat, and tears is literally in the land. I don’t care if it’s from your finger getting cut in the field when you were out there working. It’s literally in there.”) (quoting Interview with Septima, St. Helena Landowner (Feb. 2012)).

[71] Brabec & Richardson, supra note 61, at 155.

[72] Id.

[73] Dean Hardy & Nik Heynen, “I am Sapelo”: Racialized Uneven Land Development and Land Politics Within the Gullah Geechee Corridor, 5 Nature & Space 401, 408 (“President Lincoln’s Secretary of War asked 20 Black leaders how they could best ‘take care of themselves’ . . . Reverend Garrison Frazier replied, ‘The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our labor—that is, by the labor of the women, and children, and old men—and we can maintain ourselves and have something to spare.’”).

[74] Hargrove, supra note 36, at 47–48 (1865) (quoting Field Order 15) (“The islands from Charleston south, the abandoned rice- fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. John’s River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.  At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine, and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations; but on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves.”).

[75] Goodwine, supra note 6, at 165.

[76] Faith Rivers, Inequity in Equity: The Tragedy of Tenancy in Common for Heirs’ Property Owners Facing Partition in Equity, 17 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 1, 18–19 (2007). Only about 2,000 of the 40,000 freedpeople who settled on Sea Island land under Field Order 15 actually acquired the land promised. Id. at 19.

[77] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 76–78.

[78] Id. at 77.

[79] Brabec & Richardson, supra note 61, at 157.

[80] Cross, supra note 4, at 78.

[81] Twining & Baird, supra note 31, at 7.

[82] Jones-Jackson, supra note3, at 5–7.

[83] Hargrove, supra note 36, at 49. The hunting and fishing methods used in the Sea Islands also demonstrate connections to traditional African methods. Jones-Jackson, supra note3, at 14–16.

[84] Interview with Robert, Wadmalaw Island Landowner, Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 149.

[85] Interview with Gullah/Geechee Descendant, Hardy & Heynan, supra note 73, at 416.

[86] See supra Section II.C.

[87] Faith R. Rivers & Jennie Stephens, Preserving Heirs’ Property in Coastal South Carolina (Charleston, South Carolina), in Breakthrough Communities: Sustainability and Justice in the Next American Metropolis (M. Paloma Patel ed., 2009) (“For many heirs’ property land parcels that have been part of the family since Reconstruction, the land and the land deed have remained unchanged since the original conveyance.”).

[88] Because the word “property” itself might be considered a legal term of art that carries the weight and assumptions of Western Property Law and Western understandings of real property and land use, this section will as much as possible avoid using the word.  This is not to suggest that there is no conception of “property” or “ownership” among the Gullah/Geechee, but only that it generally comes with a different set of cultural understandings and meanings.

[89] Twining, supra note 23, at 89; Josephine A. Beoku-Betts, We Got Our Way of Cooking Things: Women, Food and Preservation of Cultural Identity among the Gullah, in The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah Roots of African American Culture 137, 139 (Marquetta L. Goodwine & The Clarity Press Gullah Project eds., 1998).

[90] Id. at 91.

[91] Jones-Jackson, supra note 3, at 22–23.  The importance of the extended family shows a strong West African influence. See, e.g., Demerson, supra note 55, at 59 (“In virtually every society of precolonial . . . Africa, a person was affiliated at birth with a set of unilineally determined cosanguines . . . the fundamental emphasis on lineage—a corporate descent group to which one had obligations and through which one acquired rights—was (and is) widespread in Africa.”).

[92] Beoku-Betts, supra note 89, at 148; Emory Campbell, A Sense of Self and Place: Unmasking my Gullah Cultural Heritage, in African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry: The Atlantic World of the Gullah Geechee (Philip Morgan ed., 2010) (“[Gullah culture] meant that I knew my nineteenth cousin because we shared the same neighborhood of family land. I often use the term ‘nineteenth cousin’ to illustrate how important kinship has been in Gullah traditions of sharing resources.”).

[93] Twining & Baird, supra note 31, at 4.

[94] Keith E. Baird & Mary A. Twining, Names and Naming in the Sea Islands, in Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia 37, 53 (Mary A. Twining & Kenneth E. Baird eds., 1991).

[95] Demerson, supra note 55, at 60. 

[96] Pollitzer, supra note 35, at 130–31; Demerson, supra note 55, at 60.

[97] Pollitzer, supra note 35, at 131.

[98] Beoku-Betts, supra note 89, at 148.

[99] Janice F. Dyer & Connor Bailey, A Place to Call Home: Cultural Understandings of Heir Property Among Rural African Americans, 73 Rural Socio. 317, 321 (2008).

[100] Cross, supra note 4, at 47.

[101] Campbell, supra note 92, at 284; Paul N. Nybo, Environmental Justice and the Gullah Geechee: The National Environmental Policy Act’s Potential in Protecting the Sea Islands, 72 S.C. L. Rev. 1039, 1059 (2021) (quoting Dean, supra note 1, at 179) (“For the Gullah Geechee, ‘[l]and is widely considered the most valuable of all Gullah Geechee cultural assets.  It has always been the base for economic and social development.’”).  

[102] Cross, supra note 4, at 19.

[103] Id. (“People cannot maintain their culture . . . without a land base.”).

[104] Id. at 78; Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 321.

[105] Cross, supra note 4, at 19.

[106] Id. at 57.

[107] Beoku-Betts, supra note 89, at 147 (“[Y]ou can’t move a culture and tradition from one area and just plant it in another area . . . You’ve got to nurture it here, pass it down, teach children, and so forth.”).

[108] Faith R. Rivers, The Public Trust Debate: Implications for Heirs’ Property along the Gullah Coast, 15 Se. Env’t L.J. 147, 161 (2006).

[109] Twining, supra note 23, at 89; Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 72 (“[W]e have to look at our land as a place that holds every bit of blood, sweat, tears, and placenta of everyone who came before us…Burial areas are here. So now, is it just land or is it a living being that has DNA in it, literally and figuratively.”).

[110] Beoku-Betts, supra note 89, at 139.

[111] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 80. 

[112] Id. at 144 (2012) (quoting Interview with Peter, Wadmalaw Landowner)(insisting all extended kin have rights to use land because “in reality, it’s still family regardless of whether they’s here or not”).

[113] Brabec & Richardson, supra note 61, at 158.

[114] Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 118; Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 149 (2013)(quoting interview with Robert, Wadmalaw Landowner) (“Family property is important because it’s important for heritage, and so people have something to lean on. Even if you lose everything you’ll still have some place to go…When it’s time for them to come back and live in the country, they know they’ve got—like I said: have something to fall back on, come back to.”).

[115] See Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 320 (“‘They don’t know who is entitled to what—they just know it’s a place for them to live.”).

[116] See id. at 324 (“because of its communal nature, informal rules guiding management of the land must be followed by all those who are entitled to it.”).

[117] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 161.

[118] Id. at 162–63; see id. at 78 (quoting interview with King, St. Helena Landowner)(“You know my great grandfather and grandfather bought most of their property in one big piece. And my grandfather he had the right, or the say so, of who would get what portion and how it would be dispersed. If you wanted to build a house as a family member, he would make that decision because it’s in the West African culture—that’s the way they do it in the West African culture.”).

[119] Id. at 165.

[120] Demerson, supra note 55, at 61–62. 

[121] Id. at 62.

[122] Id.

[123] See Twining & Baird, supra note 31, at 5.

[124] Brabec & Richardson, supra note 61, at 163; Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 85.

[125] See, e.g.,Cross supra note 4, at 47 (“Across the islands [the Gullah/Geechee] fashioned family compounds reminiscent of the family complexes of African villages.”).

[126] See Demerson, supra note 55, at 75–76 (citing similarities between Yoruba and Gullah/Geechee residence patterns, as well as extended family structures of other West African cultures including the Bamikele, Fanti, Wolof, Ashanti, Igbo, Kimbundu, Mandinka, and Bijogo); Mary Arnold Twining, Baskets and Quilts: Women in Sea Island Arts and Crafts, in Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia 129, 130 (Mary A. Twining & Kenneth E. Baird eds., 1991) (“The residence pattern [in Mount Pleasant] closely approximates its West African counterparts, with allowances for different climates.”).

[127] Demerson, supra note 55, at 61.

[128] Nybo, supra note 101, at 1047.

[129] Jones-Jackson, supra note 3, at 22; Demerson, supra note 55, at 67.

[130] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 8.

[131] Twining & Baird, supra note 31, at 4.

[132] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 12 (“As Carver [a Gullah/Geechee landowner] points out, his commitment to ‘seeing out’ the wishes of his ancestors is rooted in his understanding of who his ancestors left the land for and why they left it.”).

[133] See Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 16 (“[W]hen the Lord take me over to see him and some of the children need a place to stay, my grands and them, they can have it. It’ll be like how my grandmother left the property for everybody. It’ll be for anybody that needs a place to stay”); Cross, supra note 4, at 77 (“[F]or us, property is home.  You live, you grow up, you die, and you pass it on.  We’re just trying to preserve what was passed on to us.  Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers had to work and buy property that they handed down to us.”).

[134] Cross, supra note 4, at 47; Georgia’s Geechee Culture Braces for Change, NPR (May 8, 2008), (“Culture is no good without land . . . We’re holding onto the land, so we can hold on to the culture.”).

[135] See Mary Goodwine Johnson, Gawd Dun Smile ‘Pun We: Reflections on the Ancestors, Family, and the Gullah Heritage, in The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah Roots of African American Culture 80, 88 (Marquetta L. Goodwine & The Clarity Press Gullah Project eds., 1998) (“The location of our property has specific cultural meaning to us.  This is the lands of our forefathers, passed down to us, generation after generation.  This soil on which many of us were born, rared, lived, and died.  It is our own property . . . It is there that we have our closest family and cultural ties; and it is there that we wish to remain.  It is this land that we wish to pass on to our children . . .It is of uttermost importance that this land remain that of the ‘Goodwine family heirs.’”).

[136] Interview with Johnny Rivers, Rivers, supra note 76, at 55.

[137] Interview with Emory Campbell, Joyner, supra note 67, at 280.

[138] Interview with St. Helena Island Resident, Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 90–91.

[139] Interview with Henry Aiken, Gullah/Geechee descendant, Angela C. Halfacre, A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry 211 (2012).

[140]Halfacre, supra note 139, at 9.

[141] See Hardy & Heynan, supra note 73, at 405 (“There is something of a reduced historical-geographic proximity from the colonial era and that of chattel slavery on Sapelo Island given the deliberate efforts of Saltwater Geechee residents to maintain their rich cultural history that developed in such contiguity with, and in resistance, to these anti-Black logics.”).

[142] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 81 (“Over the course of the mid-twentieth century, federal campaigns against malaria, the proliferation of air conditioning, and the extension of infrastructure to rural areas led to changing perceptions of the Lowcountry. It was transformed from, as Maya put it, ‘no good land’ to prime property.”).

[143] Cross, supra note 4, at 79. 

[144] Id.

[145] See supra Section III.C.

[146] See Rivers, supra note 108, at 152; Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 12; Tommy Geddings, Heirs’ Property: A Quagmire for the Unprepared, 22-JUL S.C. Law 24, 25 (2010) (“Heirs’ property is a non-technical term often used to describe the situation where someone has died without a last will and testament nor any probate of an estate, and the survivors just continued to operate as if the deceased were alive.”).

[147] Rivers, supra note 76, at 2; Tenancy in Common 1 Patton & Palomar on Land Titles § 222 (3d ed. 2021) (“Whenever a class of heirs receives property by inheritance under laws of intestacy, they take their interests as tenants in common.”).

[148] Rivers, supra note 76, at 2.

[149] Joyce D. Palomar, Tenancy in Common, in 1 Patton & Palomar on Land Titles § 222 (3d ed. 2021); Rivers, supra note 108, at 148; Rivers, supra note 76, at 3 (“Rather than consolidate, tenancy in common property fractionates upon the death of each interest holder”).

[150] See Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 116 (“Making an heirs’ property claim relies on marriage licenses or certificates of birth and adoption in order to prove kinship . . . Those heirs whose kinship claims are based on the extension of rights through cohabitation or caregiving on family property can be erased through this process . . . For example, on Wadmalaw Island I interviewed a woman named Rosa, whose claim to her Wadmalaw Island parcel was based on a history of residency, grounds keeping, responsibility for taxes, caregiving for non-blood relatives who could claim intestate property rights, and an oral will recognized by other family members . . . when she showed her family tree to a lawyer, he informed her that since she was never legally adopted, she had no legal right to pursue such actions and in fact was not an heir.”).

[151] Brian Grabbatin & Jennie L. Stephens, Wigfall v. Mobley et al.: Heirs’ Property Rights in Family and in Law, 20 Disclosure: A J. of Soc. Theory 133, 136–140 (2011).

[152] Palomar, supra note 149, at § 222; Rivers, supra note 108, at 148. 

[153] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 14, 80.

[154] Rivers, supra note 76, at 60.

[155] Will Breland, Acres of Distrust: Heirs Property, the Law’s Role in Sowing Suspicion Among Americans and How Lawyers Can Help Curb Black Land Loss, 28 Geo. J. on Poverty L. & Pol’y 377, 388 (2021).

[156] Grabbatin & Stephens, supra note 151.

[157] See Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 103. 

[158] Id.

[159] Thomas W. Mitchell, Destabilizing the Normalization of Rural Black Land Loss: A Critical Role for Legal Empiricism, 2005 Wis. L. Rev. 557, 586 (2005) (citing Abraham Bell & Gideon Parchomovsky, A Theory of Property, 90 Cornell L. Rev. 531, 563 (2005)).

[160] Rivers, supra note 76, at 3.

[161] Id. at 37. The Constitutional Court of Appeals of South Carolina expressed this preference for alienability in 1804; Warnock v. Wightman, 3 S.C.L. 331, 365 (S.C. Const. App. 1804) (“[I]t is against the policy of the law, that estates should be tied up, and rendered unalienable for a great or indefinite length of time.”).

[162] Pell v. Ball’s Ex’rs, 18 S.C. Eq. 361, 373 (S.C. App. Eq. 1845) (“It seldom happens that men will insist on a specific partition of land, as most people are glad, in the abundance of land, to get the proceeds of sale, and purchase for themselves.”).

[163] Id. at 363 (ordering that “the negro slaves belonging to the said plantations, or employed thereon, be also sold by the said Master, in lots according to families”).

[164] Id. at 387–88.

[165] See Porter, supra note 5, at 252 (“When the U.S. legal system was constructed, it was not made for African people—or their descendants . . . that system . . . was founded on the interests of those capturing and enslaving Africans; and it was both imposed on them and used to justify their enslavement and other violent and demeaning acts against them”).

[166] See Joyner, supra note 67, at 278. 

[167] Id.

[168] Id.

[169] Id., at 278–79; Jones-Jackson, supra note 3, at xiii (“[B]y 1980 [Blacks on Hilton Head] were outnumbered five to one by whites.”).

[170] Id., at 278.

[171] Dean, supra note 1, at 392–93.

[172] Id.

[173] Hargrove, supra note 36, at 51 (“‘We don’t want another Hilton Head’ is commonly used nowadays as a precautionary warning against unbridled development of undisturbed locales yet to be ‘discovered’ by outsiders.”).

[174] Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee nation, refers to these individuals not as developers, but “destructioneers.” See Queen Quet, A 40 Year Stand for Gullah/Geechee Land, Gullah/Geechee Nation (July 6, 2020), This paper will continue to use the word “developers” for the sake of clarity, but recognizes the importance of Queen Quet’s disruption of the use of the word for bringers of culture destruction. 

[175] Joyner, supra note 67, at 278; Goodwine, supra note 6, at 168 (“The resort that [Joseph] Fraser and his son [Charles] built was a success and still exists.  It sparked a rapid increase of people wanting to invest in building resorts.”).

[176] See Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 326 (“[T]he legal system can work against the interests of those who are vulnerable, and in favor of unscrupulous investors seeking to profit on others’ misfortunes.”).

[177] Goodwine, supra note 6, at 168–69 (“The documents that were presented to many people were of course legal documents that even college graduates would require lawyers to review. In many cases these documents were presented to people who could not read and could only sign their mark at the end of the papers . . . They also did not know that in the coming weeks, someone would arrive with trucks to tell them that it was time for them to move out so that their home could be destroyed to facilitate their digging.”). These briefcases also often contained significantly less money than the property was “worth” on the market, often filled with one-dollar bills. Id.

[178] Nybo, supra note 101, at 1049–50 (“The heirs’ property model of ownership quickly attracted developers to Gullah Geechee Sea Island land because it created an opportunity to acquire valuable lands far below market price.”).

[179] Goodwine, supra note 6, at 169; Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 320; Audrey Anne Butkus, “The Worst Problem No One Has Ever Heard Of”: Heirs’ Property and its Cultural Significance to Gullah-Geechee Residents of the South Carolina Lowcountry 21–22 (2012) (M.S. Thesis, The University of Texas at Austin) (on file with Texas ScholarWorks, University of Texas Libraries) (“The developer will determine the family under whom the title is jointly shared and conduct a genealogy search in order to generate a list of all living descendants with ‘partial ownership’. Many partial stakeholders are not only unaware of their share of this land, but also unfamiliar with the family members currently living on the land. Usually these stakeholders live in another part of the country, having long ago moved away from the South. With no cultural ties to the land and an attractive price tag from a developer, the partial owner will sell a developer their ‘share.’”).

[180] Rivers, supra note 108, at 153. (“partition actions are mechanisms for outsiders to acquire property not for sale.”).

[181] Butkus, supra note 179, at 22.

[182] Breland, supra note 155, at 386.

[183] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 113–14.

[184] Id. at 114.

[185] See Russ Bynum, Sapelo Island residents say property taxes could force them off ancestral land, Fla. Times-Union (Jan. 29, 2013, 5:49 PM), (citing a tax hike that could potentially force fifty Gullah/Geechee residents off their land in a single community); Goodwine, supra note 6, at 169.

[186] Goodwine, supra note 6, at 169; Joyner, supra note 67, at 237; See Into America with Trymaine Lee, How Gullah Geechee families are losing their land and their wealth in tax delinquent auctions, MSNBC (Oct. 7, 2021),; Zoe Nicholson, Sold to the Highest Bidder: Woman Fights to Save Gullah Geechee Land Through Tax Payments, Savannah Morning News (Mar. 2, 2022),; Riley Miller, Fighting for Land: As Taxes Rise in Beaufort County Historic Gullah Properties Disappear, WJCL (Oct. 6, 2020),; Dean, supra note 1, at 392 (“Exorbitant property taxes essentially served to keep the local African-American population of the Sea Islands outside of the community gates of Fraser’s properties.”).

[187] Dean, supra note 1, at 393.

[188] Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 319.

[189] Rivers, supra note 108, at 162.

[190] Butkus, supra note 179, at 25.

[191] Queen Quet, Hilton Head Island’s Gentrified Genocide, Gullah/Geechee Nation (Nov. 13, 2021), (“They do not see that the displacement from land and disbursement of a people that live communally leads to the erosion / erasure / death of an ethnic group of people.”); Queen Quet, ‘We Are Not an Island’, Sojourners, Aug. 2014,at 32 (“I’ve had to fight a great deal against the cultural genocide caused by the displacement of our people as a result of corporate development.”).

[192] Hardy & Heynan, supra note 73, at 416; Hargrove, supra note 36, at F1 (“With every hotel that is built and every road that is widened we lose a piece of the history and heritage of the Gullah people.”).

[193] Goodwine, supra note 6, at 171.

[194] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 157–58.

[195] Goodwine, supra note 6, at 171.

[196] Id. at 172.

[197] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 101.

[198] See Joyner, supra note 67, at 279.

[199] Id.

[200] Cross, supra note 4, at 77.

[201] Halfacre, supra note 139, at 212.

[202] Goodwine, supra note 6, at 173–74.

[203] Id. at 279–80.

[204] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 31.

[205] Hargrove, supra note 36, at 97.

[206] See id. (“[On Phillips Island] chemical runoff from the golf course has had a serious impact on the marshes and waters of Horlbeck Creek. The fish and crabs are no longer abundant.”); Cross, supra note 4, at 54. 

[207] Hargrove, supra note 36, at 83.

[208] Cross, supra note 4, at 166.

[209] Gullah/Geechee proverb. Queen Quet, Hunnuh mus tek cyare de root fa heal de tree: Gullah/Geechee Resiliency, Gullah/Geechee Nation (July 14, 2021),

[210] See Breland, supra note 155; Mitchell, supra note 153; Thomas W. Mitchell, Stephen Malpezzi & Richard K. Green, Forced Sale Risk: Class, Race, and the “Double Discount”, 37 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 589, 615 (2010); Rivers, supra note 76; Rivers & Stephens, supra note 85.  There have been notable exceptions, though largely outside of the legal field. But see Grabbatin, supra note 57; Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 336 (“much of the literature on heir property has focused on the negative aspects of such collective forms of ownership”); Butkus, supra note 179, at 56 (“Though there has been a focus by large organizations to clear and partition all heirs’ property, they neglect to take into account the cultural significance of it to the Gullah-Geechee population.”).

[211] See Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 131.

[212] See Lea Terlonge, Resistance Is Not Futile: Protecting the Traditional Knowledge of the Gullah/Geechee from Assimilation, 1 Charleston L. Rev. 51, 68–70 (2006).

[213] Porter, supra note 5, at 280.

[214] Protect Your Land, Ctr. for Heirs Property & Preservation, (last accessed May 16, 2022); Rivers & Stephens, supra note 87, at 189.

[215] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 5.

[216] Mitchell, supra note 159, at 581 (claiming some scholars and activists make unverified claims about why black landowners have lower will-making rates than white landowners).

[217] Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 80.

[218] Twining & Baird, supra note 3, at x (“What the Euro-American community regarded as ‘superstations’ were part of a belief system that fitted into an African cultural continuum.”).

[219] Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 319.

[220] Breland, supra note 155, at 402.

[221] See Grabbatin, supra note 57, at 108 (“When asked, nearly all of the landowners, lawyers, and activists I interviewed for this project suggested that will making in the African American community is so uncommon because of racial inequalities, which led to illiteracy and distrust of courts and local government. African American respondents were more likely to also mention superstitions about ‘wills hastening death’ and their faith in extralegal practices of oral will making for preserving land.”) (emphasis added).

[222] See Dyer & Bailey, supra note 99, at 334–35.

[223] Queen Quet, supra note 191, at 33.