Sapelo Islanders Have Survived Persecution And Slavery. Can They Survive Tourism? – In the long history of trespasses against the black population of Sapelo Island, this was a small victory, and probably a fleeting one. Grovner is locked in a bigger fight to protect the land, as detailed in a federal lawsuit filed by him and several other black residents — known collectively as “the descendants,” whose families stayed after emancipation and built a self-sufficient community from the unforgiving wilderness of this barrier island off the southeastern coast.
This historic community is quickly vanishing, the lawsuit claims, because Georgia officials are depriving islanders of water, trash collection, schools, and fire protection enjoyed by the majority-white population of the mainland. Last month, five more descendants joined the suit, which says the lack of basic services and the tax hikes of recent years are a violation of civil rights, with the ultimate goal of pushing out black residents in favor of the developers eyeing this sleepy outpost as the next Jekyll or St. Simons, bustling island resorts farther down the coast. That scenario would spell the end of a rich cultural heritage that was kept alive for generations by the descendants of enslaved West Africans.