Grate is a Plantersville native and a minister, who organized his Gullah Geechee relatives and neighbors to fight to save the beloved heirs property their families have owned since the end of the Civil War in the 1860s.
He's working closely with our non-profit (PAFEN) to ensure that Plantersville Gullah Geechee families can redeem their property that's already been sold.
But our ultimate goal is to prevent their ancestral homes and land from ever being auctioned again.
By Theresa White, Founder & CEO
The Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network, Inc. (PAFEN)
Disabled retiree Lillian Milton wasn't the first Gullah Geechee resident of Plantersville, SC to lose property through a Georgetown County Delinquent Tax Sale for not paying the controversial $250 annual assessment fee for a sewer line that she doesn't want--and has never connected to.
But she's the first person known to have suffered a stress-related heart attack over it, according to a widely-read BBC Magazine story published on Dec. 5, 2016.
"I am retired and I have already lost my house once to the tax sale because of this assessment," Milton told a Georgetown Times reporter in March 2016. " . . . somebody needs to step in and help us before we all lose our homes."
Our PAFEN Board of Directors heard the Plantersville Gullah Geechee community's call for help.
So, we've been quietly working behind the scenes to lend both technical, and financial assistance in coming weeks.
We also spread the word about the growing threat of Plantersville land loss around the globe via our Facebook Page, using both the BBC story, and a special Atlanta Black Star video website posted on its website on Dec. 9, 2017.
VIEW THE BBC MAGAZINE STORY & VIDEO HERE:
SEE THE ATLANTA BLACK STAR STORY HERE:
READ THE DETAILED HISTORY ABOUT HOW THE GULLAH GEECHEES IN PLANTERSVILLE GOT INVOLVED IN THE $250 SEWER ASSESSMENT PROPERTY TAX TRAP, IN THIS GEORGETOWN TIMES/SOUTH STRAND NEWS INVESTIGATION PIECE HERE:
Our non-profit Pan-African Family Empowerment and Land Preservation Network--which has helped to save more than $2-million worth of Gullah Geechee-owned land in S.C. since May 2015--is willing to go to the mat to help the Plantersville Gullah Geechee community.
But we need the financial support of our loyal gofundme donors, and the general public to redeem already sold properties; pay taxes to avoid delinquent tax sales; and launch a Gullah Geechee Land Legal Defense Fund.
Since January 2017, we've been working with Plantersville community activist/leader, Rev. Ben Grate, to develop both short-term and long-term strategies for saving the property of the land rich, but cash poor Gullah Geechee families whose land is in the crosshairs of real estate developers with deep pockets.
We're trying to raise a minimum of $500,000 to make that happen--while continuing our various assistance programs for Gullah Geechees, and other people of African descent.
FUNDS NEEDED TO HELP GULLAH-GEECHEE LANDOWNERS AVOID HOMELESSNESS & DISPLACEMENT
If they lose the land they own now--they face a very depressing future:
*Either they'll become homeless.
*Or they'll remain permanently displaced because they'll never be able to earn enough money to replace the beautiful land--some valuable waterfront property-- that's been passed down to them by their ancestors
PLEASE MAKE AN IMMEDIATE TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION TO OUR HELP SAVE GULLAH GEECHEE LAND CAMPAIGN to support our much-needed financial and technical assistance to families in crisis!!!!
Beaufort, SC resident Michelle Lewis received $5,523.00 to save her lifelong home, which was sold at the 2014 Beaufort County Delinquent Tax Sale.
Alfornes "Alfonso" Brown of the Grays Hill Community received $702. 78 to pay the taxes on his mobile home current through 2016. His check was presented by "Sway of the Siren" author Laurie K. McCall, a loyal PAFEN donor.
Among other tax payments totaling more than $1,800, Grays Hill resident Shatwanna Fields received $806.22 to redeem her mobile home lot sold at the 2016 Beaufort County Delinquent Tax Sale. Her check above was presented by PAFEN First Vice Chair Stephen A. McHayle, a native of Jamaica.
Burton resident Michelle Haygood received $2,399.47 to redeem a home and land she co-owns with her father, Willie. The property was sold at the 2014 Beaufort County Delinquent Tax Sale. Her check was presented by PAFEN Founder & CEO Theresa White.
CONTINUING BATTLE FOR BLACK-OWNED LAND
Gullah Geechees and other Black-Americans have been, and are still being cheated out of their land far more often than most Americans realize.
In 2006, the Associated Press published the findings of its 18-month investigation which revealed a pattern of African-Americans being cheated out of their land, or run off it through methods, including intimidation, trickery, forged deeds, violence, arson, and outright murder--in 107 documented land takings in 13 southern and border states.
Crooked judges and law enforcement officials were involved in several of the cases uncovered by the AP.
In 2012, the Geechee people of Sapelo Island, GA had to fight off a McIntosh County tax reassessment that resulted in more than 500% tax increases for almost all of the Hog Hammock community's less than 50 families.
Incredibly, Annie Watts, 73, saw the tax bill for her three-room, 1-acre Sapelo Island homestead rise from just $362 to $2,312, according to The New York Times.
Currently, we're working with Hilton Head Island's Native Islander Gullah Community; the S.C. Chapter of the National Action Network; and the new HHI Chapter of NAN to get land use restrictions loosened that keep Gullah Geechees from subdividing their land among relatives, and using it for economic development.
The graphic video below--which is narrated by Gullah businessman Taiwan Scott--shows how Town of Hilton Head Island officials have been neglecting the needs of Native Islander Gullah taxpayers since the town was incorporated in 1983.
And here's some of the media coverage about PAFEN's work with Hilton Head Island's Native Islander Gullah Community:
RENTERS FACE DISPLACEMENT, TOO
Gullah-Geechee renters are also facing displacement, and the difficult search for new affordable housing in record numbers due to gentrification in cities including Savannah, GA , and Charleston, SC.
In Charleston, according to a Dec. 23, 2014 article in the Black-owned newspaper, The Charleston Chronicle, the city's Black popuation was plummeted from 70% to just 28% since 1980!
THE PAN-AFRICAN FAMILY EMPOWERMENT NETWORK'S MISSION
One of the PAFEN's main goals is empowering people of African descent with the educational, organizational, and financial tools necessary to protect their ancestral homes, family-owned land, and farms from being lost through delinquent tax sales; gentrification; new developments and resorts; and skyrocketing property taxes.
We also aim to ensure that African peoples understand that land and home ownership are key to building wealth to pass from one generation to the next, as well as important stepping stones to breaking the cycle of generational poverty.
CULTURAL HERITAGE CORRIDOR
The Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was established by Congress in 2006 through the tireless efforts of Gullah-Geechee leaders like Marquetta "Queen Quet" Goodwine of St. Helena Island, SC.
Powerful back-up and legislative leadership was provided by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the first African-American elected to Congress from South Carolina since Reconstruction. He's currently the third highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House.
The Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is marked by distinctive roadsigns from Wilmington, NC to Jacksonville, FL.
It seeks to preserve and protect the culturally-unique Gullah-Geechee people, whose blended West African, Native-American, and European culture features some of the purest traditional African cultural retentions in the New World.
"Unless something is done to halt the destruction, Gullah Geechee culture will be relegated to museums and history books, and our nation's unique cultural mosaic will lose one of its richest and most colorful pieces," observes the National Trust for Historic Preservation website.
Because many of their families live on valuable waterfront property on beautiful sea islands stretching from North Carolina to Florida, untold numbers of Gullah-Geechee people are being forced to sell land their families have owned for generations due to skyrocketing taxes.
LANDOWNERS NEED TRANSITIONAL FUNDS
Fortunately, here in Beaufort County, SC the Beaufort County Council has made it possible for all taxpayers to pay their property taxes in six equal installments--rather than one often hard to obtain lump sum payment.
The problem is that taxpayers have to be current on their tax bills by Jan. 15--in order to start making the estimated installment payments on the next year's taxes by February 15.
Gullah-Geechee families have tried to raise funds to pay their taxes by many methods, including fish frys; bake sales; raffles; yard sales; timber harvesting; payday and finance company loans; and the online sale of products like the Sapelo Island Geechee Red Peas Project.
But they still need help from other sources.
$500,000 GOAL IS JUST THE BEGINNING
Our long-term goal is to raise $5-million to assist Gullah-Geechee families with buying back property that was sold at delinquent tax sales before the "one year and a day" redemption deadline; providing training on various aspects of lowering property taxes and making property pay for itself; and giving one-time tax payment grants to allow families to make the transition to installment tax payments.
Any donation that you can make will be greatly appreciated, and publicly acknowledged on the Pan-African Family Empowerment Network website--unless you request to remain anonymous.
Please give as generously as possible. No donation is too small, or too large:)
We're a 501c3 tax-exempt organization, and will issue receipts that can be used for tax-deductions.
Thanks in advance for your much-needed support!
Theresa White, Founder & CEO
The Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network, Inc.
St. Helena Island, SC
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