Southern Plantations Revisited

The plantation mentality of the Old South is alive and well on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina -- literally.

Commercial development of resort properties along the coast, all-white developments with names such as Haig Point Plantation, is pushing the island's longtime African-American population off the islands. According to one "native islander," Yvonne Wilson, the African-American community on the islands has declined in the past three decades from 1,000 to 45.

After a fact-finding tour of the islands in early October, the Prophetic Justice Unit (PJU) of the National Council of Churches called for congressional hearings to investigate what it described as "systematic cultural genocide" on the islands.

The African-American population on the islands, known as "native islanders," are descendants of slaves who worked on the original plantations in the area as early as the 17th century. The islanders have maintained many of the traditional African folkways of their ancestors -- from music to an economy based largely on barter.

But their culture and their community have been severely impacted since commercial development began on the islands in the 1950s. And the changes have left them economically dependent on their new neighbors.

Rising taxes due to development have forced many islanders to forfeit or sell much of their land. And the increasing pollution of fishing areas that provided a livelihood for many residents has forced those who remain on the islands to take low-wage jobs at the new developments as maids, cooks, and groundskeepers.

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