Help Save Sapelo and Support Black Land Matters

"Can you name your great-great-great-great-great grandfather who lived in West Africa in the year 1760?  Can you picture him as a young man, learning to write in Arabic before he was enslaved?  I can.  His name was Bilali Muhammad.  Before his abduction he lived in the city of Timbo in West Africa, what is now part of Guinea.  Bilali’s granddaughter was my great-great-great grandmother, Cotto Hillery Grovner, and her husband (my great-great-great grandfather) John, was among the first deeded Black landowners in the United States. His land is now under attack, and I need your help to save it. 

My Gullah Geechee, ancestors, all of them freed slaves, bought over 1,200 acres of land on Georgia’s Sapelo Island within 20 years after slavery in America was abolished.  We built churches; we fished; we planted rice, red peas, and okra; we raised livestock; and we built entirely self-reliant communities on Sapelo and other Atlantic coast islands. That same land is still legally owned by us, the direct descendants of the courageous freed slaves that hungered for land and self-reliance. Sapelo Island, today, is the last remaining intact Gullah Geechee sea island slave descendant community in America.  Our precious community -- our direct linkage to Africa -- is under constant attack by powerful forces, both private and public, that for the last 108 years have threatened our community and our Gullah Geechee way of life on Sapelo Island."

-JR Grovner

Help us tell the State of Georgia that Black Land Matters. 100% of your contributions will help us continue our fight to rightfully reclaim and repopulate Sapelo Island, a land we love. 

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About and JR Grovner's Sapelo Island ancestral home:

The threat of losing these historic Black-owned lands is imminent. There are active lawsuits underway to begin this fight. Now we need funding, organizing and awareness to start our new nonprofit, Black Land Matters. 

The Gullah Geechee is a culture formed when former slaves established the only homes they knew after the civil war - on the southern Atlantic coastal islands, where their ancestors had been inhumanely relocated and enslaved from Africa. Georgia's Sapelo Island, as of 1900, was a self-sufficient community of 575 slave descendants, according to that year's census. Sapelo is now the last Gullah Geechee slave descendant community of its kind. Since the first Black owned land on Sapelo was purchased by freed-slaves in 1871 - including JR Grovner’s great-great-great grandfather, John -  it has been continuously threatened and illegally obtained, and the on-island population has suffered greatly - with only 27 on-island descendant residents remaining today, though many continue to visit and want to return if conditions improve and allow.  We now ask for your help to reclaim and repopulate what rightfully belongs to JR, one of the descendants still making his living on Sapelo, and their families — their ancestral home. 

JR Grovner grew up on Sapelo Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia only accessible by boat or ferry.  Sapelo still has a distinct culture of preserved African traditions, crafts and beliefs. Sapelo’s 27 remaining on-island descendant residents of Hog Hammock (Hogg Hummock) are the last intact Gullah Geechee community in the country. Their history and spirit of survival is vital to our story as a people.

In 1871, JR Grovner’s great-great-great grandfather, John Grovner, purchased a 33.72 acre plot of land on the north side of the Georgian Sea Island island where he had formerly been enslaved to make his family a home — the first Black-owned land documented on the island. That Racoon Bluff land plot, legally deeded to the Grovner family, was part of an 1,000 acre purchase divided between descendant families, many of whom still reside on Sapelo. The Raccoon Bluff Community on Sapelo Island was the Grovner family homeplace until the 1950's, when they were forced to relocate to Sapelo's low-lying Hogg Hummock (now referred to as Hog Hammock).

Sapelo’s Black community has had to fight to maintain their homes and livelihood for the past 150 years. As Sapelo’s land and real estate rose in value, more than a half dozen descendant communities spread out across the island, including Racoon Bluff, were forced into Hogg Hummock through resource manipulation, financial coercion, and invalid quitclaim deeds. This made the north half of the island — still legally owned by the 16 descendant families — part of a luxury hunting ground run alongside the state of Georgia. Here, and to this day, presidents, governors, and judges have found favor over the local Gullah Geechee community who remain treated as second class citizens, separated from the lands they legally own. 

As the climate-change driven rise in hurricanes threatens to make life for Hog Hammock’s residents impossible, and the pressures that be continue to manipulate more and more members of the community out of their homes and over time off-island, time is well overdue for Sapelo’s descendants to reclaim and repopulate their deeded lands at Raccoon Bluff and thrive again. More than 20 descendants have testified that they will move back to Sapelo if conditions improve and allow. Together, we can make that happen, including a return of Geechee Culture Day, last held on Sapelo in 2017.

Help show your support, and tell the state of Georgia that Black Land Matters.

Sapelo’s Hog Hammock (Hogg Hummock) is the last intact Gullah Geechee slave descendant community in the country. 

Historic surveys show the Gullah Geechee ownership of Raccoon Bluff, dating back to when the first Black owned land on Sapelo was legally purchased by freed-slaves in 1871.

Raccoon Bluff sits along Blackbeard Creek.  If you walk these beaches you can find bricks and artifacts from the homes built by the original Black land owners, including JR's great-great-great grandfather, John.

JR and his family have been running tours of Sapelo Island  to share the rich history and create opportunity and livelihood for the descendant community.  Here, a tour group visits to discover more about their ancestral lineage from Africa.

Help us start our nonprofit, Black Land Matters, and save JR and the Gullah Geechee's ancestral home on Sapelo Island.
  • Maya Jordan 
    • $5 
    • 1 mo
  • Adammah Reynolds 
    • $6 
    • 1 mo
  • Erika Parrish 
    • $5 
    • 1 mo
  • Amaya Jones 
    • $10 
    • 1 mo
  • Althea Wilkinson 
    • $10 
    • 1 mo
See all

Organizer and beneficiary

JR Grovner 
Ardick, GA
Iregene Grovner