Black Landowners Fight To Reclaim Georgia Home

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From the NY Times:

HARRIS NECK NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Ga. — When the managers from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service talk about this 2,800-acre preserve of moss-draped cypress, palmetto and marsh, they speak of endangered wood stork rookeries and disappearing marsh habitat, dike maintenance and interpretive kiosks.

But when the members of the Harris Neck Land Trust talk about it, they speak of injustice, racism and a place they used to call home.

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In 1942, Harris Neck, a thriving community of black landowners who hunted, farmed and gathered oysters, was taken by the federal government to build an airstrip. Now, the elders — who remember barefoot childhoods spent climbing trees and waking to watch the Canada geese depart in formation — want to know why they cannot have it back.

The Harris Neck Land Trust, formed by the former residents, their descendants and a handful of white families who owned land but did not live on Harris Neck, is asking Congress to return the land. The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that the land is a crucial part of the national refuge system.

On its face, the quest of the former residents pits the goal of environmental conservation against that of righting a historical injustice. But it is also a conflict about two ways of life — one that tries to protect natural resources from human encroachment, the other demonstrating that humans can live in harmony with nature.

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