Habari Gani 2023 Vol 28: A Focus on Recent Events

Attorney Bakari Sellers and Josephine Wright

By Makheru Bradley

July 16, 2023 10:33PM
Makheru Bradley

We titled this series Habari Gani, a Kiswahili term we use during Kwanzaa, translated as “What’s New”, or “What is the News?” Our intent is to cover recent events that impact Afrikan people.

93-year-old Black woman was sued because she refused to sell her land
Elder Josephine Wright is fighting to keep the Gullah Geechee property her family has owned for over 150 years

Bailey Point Investment Group of Norcross, GA claims that Mrs. Wright, a grandmother to 40, great-grandmother to 50 and great-great-grandmother to 16, is delaying their progress to develop a 29-acre neighborhood with 147 units, next to her property on Hilton Head Island.

Mrs. Wright’s late husband was one of the Gullah Geechee people, who are descendants of West and Central Afrikans, who were enslaved on the rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations during Chattel Slavery. When General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order #15, on January 16, 1865, the Gullah Geechee people were given land they formerly worked while enslaved.

Sherman order states: “At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, Saint 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, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress... Whenever three respectable negroes, heads of families, shall desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose an island, or a locality clearly defined within the limits above designated, the inspector of settlements and plantations will himself, or by such sub-ordinate officer as he may appoint, give them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them such assistance as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable agricultural settlement. The three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the inspector, among themselves and such others as may choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel with not more than 800 feet waterfront, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection until such time as they can protect themselves or until Congress shall regulate their title."

An estimated 40,000 formerly enslaved Afrikans eventually settled on the 400,000 acres of land allocated by Sherman’s order. It is quite amazing that the Wright family withstood the initial assault of the returning plantation owners, after President Andrew Johnson overturned Sherman's order, and the subsequent developers of Hilton Head to keep their land, to this point.
Gullah Geechee people are being driven off their land
Allyah Wright of Capital B News reports: “For decades, mostly Gullah Geechee people inhabited Hilton Head Island. With the rise of development of private gated communities, vacation homes and high property taxes, the population in Hilton Head is now 77% white, and the Gullah people have been displaced. This effort to remove Gullah folks began in the 1950s, when rich people bought hundreds of acres of land to construct bridges and highways to allow easier access to the island.

Families lost their land because they either couldn’t afford it because of sky-high property taxes, or were forced to sell it through an auction or heirs’ property, which is property passed on to family members by inheritance but without a will or legal documentation. Every year in October, investors attend a county auction and bid on tax-delinquent properties. By one estimate, the island has 700 acres of heirs’ property left in Hilton Head, according to Luana Graves Sellars, founder of the Lowcountry Gullah Foundation, a Hilton Head-based nonprofit focused on Gullah land preservation and genealogical research assistance. At one point, there were thousands of acres of heirs’ property.”

After Mrs. Wright refused to sell her 1.8 acre parcel, she says a campaign of harassment began. That harassment included slashing her tires, throwing trash onto her property and even hanging a snake from her window, she alleges. “I guess they figured I would become so unnerved with the harassment that I would say take it. But they don’t know me. I am here to fight for what I have,” said Mrs. Wright.

Josephine Wright's Home
In February 2023, Bailey Point Investment filed a lawsuit which alleges Mrs. Wright’s property contained three encroachments — a shed, satellite dish, and screened back porch that are on their land which is costing them “considerable time and expense” to build their development. The Wright family responded by removing the shed and satellite dish. However, after paying for an independent survey of the land, they learned that her back porch is 22 feet away from the developer property line, so they didn’t remove it.

Per Allyah Wright: “One of the other issues raised in the lawsuit is whether Mrs. Wright is the legal heir to the property. The Wright family had a family trust for the property. A court document shows there was an error in the general warranty deed; however, it was corrected in 2012 to show Mrs. Wright and property co-owner Delores Richardson Wright as heirs of the property

Heirs’ property is one of the largest contributors to land loss, especially in the South. During the 20th century, an estimated 81% of Black landowners didn’t have access to legal resources to create wills. Usually, the property is split up by several heirs, and developers see this as an opportunity to seek out one of the property owners and force the sale of the entire land. In Wright’s case, the development company has tried to negotiate a sale with her family members behind her back, according to The Island Packet.

A person may have lived on a property and paid for taxes and upkeep but later learned they aren’t the sole owner, which makes heirs’ property ‘dangerous’ because it can lead to displacing people — especially people who are unable to pay for litigation, Graves Sellars said.”

The Wright family has started a GoFundMe to help cover ongoing legal expenses and property taxes, and to build a barrier around the property. NBA star Kyrie Irving reportedly made a $40,000 donation to help the Wright family, and entertainment mogul Tyler Perry has vowed to support them.

Attorney and former South Carolina state legislator Bakari Sellers, who is supporting the Wright family said, “There is a concerted effort to take property from Black folk in our community, who have lived a great life. This is about generational wealth, it’s very difficult to obtain. This is about land ownership, (and) heirs’ property, which we know we deal with a lot down here.”

The highly intelligent and courageous, 93-year-old, Mrs. Josephine Wright deserves to keep the property that is rightfully hers. The national Afrikan American community should support her.

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author)

For more from the author, follow Afrikan Liberation Media.

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