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Displacement of Gullah Islanders, USA


The Gullah Islands off the eastern U.S coast are home to a unique African-American history and culture.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Displacement of Gullah Islanders, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:East coast of South Carolina
Location of conflict:Sea Islands
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Tourism Recreation
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Sale of a 10,159 acre tract of land (over 2/3 of the island) to Fraser Lumber Company on Hilton Head Island for $600,000 in 1949 (The Gullah People Justice pdf). Construction of a toll bridge in 1956 at a cost of $1.5 million. With a $2.50 toll, over 200,000 people came to Hilton Head in the year after the completion. Twice as many journeyed to the island the next year after the toll was halved, and even more traveled when tolls were eliminated in 1959.

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:180,000-200,000
Start of the conflict:1920
Company names or state enterprises:Hilton Head Toll Bridge Authority from United States of America
Fraser Lumber from Canada
Hilton Head Company from United States of America
Sea Pines company from United States of America
Relevant government actors:US Government, Town of Hilton Head Island
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, Hilton Head Fishing Cooperative, National Association for the Advancement, of Colored People (NAACP), Penn Community Services CenterGullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, Penn Community Services Center
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Spoke at United Nations Conference
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsRegulation Changes
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
New legislation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:In 1996, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition was founded by Marquetta L. Goodwine who has since been enstooled as Queen Quet, Chieftess and Head-of-State for the Gullah/Geechee Nation. At that time, she saw the need to bring people around the world together in order to protect a branch of Africa’s tree that took root in North America which had became a place of consistent “destructionment” and displacement of Gullah/Geechee people (
The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition was the leading organization in the effort to have a Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that was founded through an act of the United States Congress. The organization continues to work with the citizens of the Gullah/Geechee Nation to insure that their human rights are protected and that the culture continues for the generations to come.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The area witnesses continual displacement with increased tourism.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

National Heritage Act of 2006: designated the coastline from Wilmington, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida as the GullahGeechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, one of the nation's forty National Heritage Areas

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Hazzard, Dominique T ., ' The Gullah People, Justice, and the Land on Hilton Head Island: A Historical P erspective' (2012). Honors Thesis Collection. Paper 60.
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition
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The Gullah/Geechee Fight for Self-Determination
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The Gullah People, Justice, and the Land on Hilton Head Island: A Historical Perspective
[click to view]

United Nations session hears Gullah language plea
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Gullah/Geechee study area stretches along the southeastern coast roughly from the Cape Fear River near the North Carolina/South Carolina line to the St. John's River near Jacksonville, Florida and 30 miles inland following estuarine boundaries. Includes the 79 barrier islands that hug the coast.
Meta information
Contributor:Bernadette Grafton, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015
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