Photo Essay: Geechee community on Sapelo Island, Ga.
SAPELO ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Sharron Grovner stands in the backyard of her home that faces this island's fecund saltwater marshes. The setting sun gives way to the stillness of evening, and the only sound one can hear are the ocean waves lapping against the shore.
These are the same shores where generations ago, Grovner's ancestors landed as slaves brought over to work a cotton plantation. They are the same shores where today the remaining descendants still fish for their dinner. They're the shores where ferries now embark to the mainland carrying hopes of employment while leaving behind a dwindling community.
Grovner is one of only 47 residents, most of them descendants of those West African slaves known as Geechee, who remain on Sapelo Island; their ancestors were brought to work the plantation of Thomas Spaulding in the early 1800s. Isolated over time to the Southeast's barrier islands, the Geechee of Georgia and Florida, also known as Gullah in the Carolinas, have retained their African traditions more than many other African American communities in the U.S.
Once freed, the ex-slaves were able to acquire land and created settlements on Sapelo Island, of which only the tiny 464-acre Hog Hammock community still exists. Residents say a sudden tax hike, lack of jobs, and development are endangering one of the last remaining Geechee/Gullah communities dotting the coast from Florida to North Carolina.