Help Save Gullah Geechee Land-2018
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
Less Than 12 Hours Are Left To Support The "Help Save Gullah-Geechee Land Campaign" of the Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network This Year!!!
Please make a real difference by making a gift of $20, $50, $100--or any amount that you can afford, to help keep land rich, but often cash poor Gullah-Geechee families from becoming either homeless, or permanently displaced from their ancestral property dating back to the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.
All donations received by midnight today, Monday, December 31st, will be tax deductible for the 2018 tax year.
Below are some of the grateful families you've helped because of your past generosity. Their relieved smiles and beaming faces tell the story of the true impact of your charitable giving.
Thanks in advance for your support.
And Happy New Year!!!
Peace and Blessings,
Theresa White, Founder & CEO
The Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network, Inc.
70-year-old widow Yvonne DeLoach of Beaufort , SC tried unsuccessfully to borrow $3,387.37 to prevent the auction of her childhood home at the 2018 Beaufort County Delinquent Tax Sale. But all she could come up with without going to a finance company was $700.
Sidelined from working by rheumatoid arthritis for the past two years, Laura Lawyer Jones was struggling to make ends meet with her dwindling retirement savings. So, she was powerless to stop the .42-acre parcel of land that her family has owned on Hilton Head Island for three generations from going to the auction block. Jones, 54, needed $695.66 that she couldn't afford to pay.
Unfortunately, both properties were auctioned at the dreaded annual county tax sale--Jones' for $24,000 and DeLoach's for $110,000. And the 3% interest immediately due to the winning bidders increased the cost of redeeming their properties by $720, and $3,300, respectively.
But thanks to the much appreciated generosity of donors to the "Help Save Gullah-Geechee Land Campaign" of the Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network--both women's property was redeemed in time for them to have a stress free and Merry Christmas!!!
NO MORE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS
"Now I can sleep," Jones said, after I handed her the $1,415.66 Redemption Receipt from the Beaufort County Treasurer's Office on HHI on Dec. 14th. "Thank you very much! This means a lot of me and my family."
Jones explained that the property was been passed down to the oldest child in the family since her father, Nathaniel Lawyer, inherited it when her paternal grandmother passed away 30 years ago. She'd come dangerously close to losing her inheritance.
Noted artist Samantha Claar, who owns the Fine Folk Galleries in Norcross, GA, donated $1,000 of the money PAFEN used to redeem the Lawyer property, where Jones and her two children, and their children share a mobile home. And Claar drove down from the Atlanta area to be a part of the PAFEN Check Presentation to Jones and her father.
Claar partnered with the Art League of Hilton Head to auction a Gullah-themed painting and use the entire proceeds to help a HHI Gullah family pay their delinquent property taxes. The painting sold for $870, and Claar donated another $130 from her art gallery.
Pictured in the Lawyer/Jones Family Check Presentation photo below are, left to right, Kristin Griffis, Art League of Hilton Head Gallery Assistant; Artist & Fne Folk Galleries Owner Samantha Claar; me in my capacity as CEO of PAFEN; Laura Lawyer Jones, and her father, Nathaniel Lawyer, 72.
FRONT PAGE NEWS
A heartwarming article about the Lawyer/Jones Family land redemption made the Facebook Page, and the Front Page of both The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Dec. 20th. You can read it by clicking the link below:
BIGGEST CASH REDEMPTION OF 2018
Thanks to the kind hearts of our new and loyal donors, during 2018 PAFEN was able to generate enough funds to prevent the loss of Gullah-Geechee-owned property with an assessed value of a $3,038,600, according to tax records in Beaufort, Colleton, and Georgetown counties. It's been our best year ever, and boosted the total assessed value of the property we've saved to more than $6-million since 2015.
But many more families still need our help to keep long-term ownership of their property through financial, technical, and referral assistance, and education about the various tax relief exemptions they qualify for, as well as resources available to help them to convert their property into a valuable asset that pays for itself.
Our largest assessed value redemption this year was the home of the late Stanley Wright and his widow, Jackie, on Hilton Head Island. Their property was then assessed at $227,300, but rose to $251,500 after the 2018 Beaufort County tax reassessment.
And our largest cash redemption was that of retired Beaufort widow Yvonne DeLoach, whose property we redeemed on Nov. 29th for $6,687.33.
Her home and land, which were purchased by her late parents in the 1950s, is currently assessed at $182,700--despite a badly leaking roof on the historic wooden house built in 1900. You'll see a photo of DeLoach below holding PAFEN's giant Presentation Check inside the Beaufort County Treasurer's Office in Beaufort.
A photo of DeLoach's property Redemption Worksheet is also attached so you'll be able to see for yourself why it's so important for us to prevent Gullah-Geechee-owned property from being auctioned at delinquent tax sales: The price of redemption can rapidly reach the point of no return for struggling families. The math tells the alarming story in no uncertain terms.
"I would like to extend my deepest thanks to those who helped in redeeming my home," says DeLoach, who was referred to PAFEN for assistance by the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce. "I appreciate your thoughtfulness in stepping up to help me. God bless you for what you did."
"I'll never be in this situation again," observed DeLoach, who took PAFEN"s advice about applying for both the lower 4% property tax assessment rate,, and the $50,000 Homestead Exemption for SC residents over 65. Her next tax bill will be a fraction of the current one--and she'll receive a refund for up to two years of back taxes.
Suddenly, DeLoach's burden of trying to pay high property taxes on a fixed income has been lifted off her shoulders--despite living in a historically-Black neighborhood in the midst of aggressive gentrification.
YOUR SUPPORT IS STILL NEEDED
Caring donors like YOU make it possible for PAFEN to provide life-changing financial and technical assistance to struggling families like the Lawyers and DeLoachs. YOU are the engine that keeps our uplifting train of programs and services moving forward during uncertain economic times.
And YOU are the reason we succeed in keeping Gullah-Geechee families, and others who attend our annual free STAND4LAND TAXPAYER EMPOWERMENT WORKSHOP from becoming either homeless, or permanently displaced from their beloved homes and land.
If possible, please take the time to make a year-end tax deductible charitable donation to support PAFEN's "Help Save Gullah-Geechee Land Campaign" by no later than Dec. 31st.
Donors who choose to do so can designate a specific geographical location to receive their donation, and can attend a PAFEN Check Presentation to meet the family their charitable gift is helping.
In addition to using this gofundme link, donors also have the options of donating via PayPal on the PAFEN website, pa-fen.org, or mailing a check to: PAFEN, P. O. Box 706, St. Helena Island, SC 29920.
Thanks in advance for your much-needed support,
Even worse, the sign also warns that if your taxes aren't paid by 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28th by 5 p.m.---your property will be sold on Monday, Oct. 1st at the Beaufort County Delinquent Tax Sale!!!
But for a Gullah-Geechee Stage Four colon cancer patient awaiting his first Social Security disability check, and a 70-year-old Gullah-Geechee widow struggling to raise her great-grandson on a fixed income--seeing those signs on their property in the Historic District of Beaufort, SC has been extremely stressful.
So, they and others--including a disabled former Beaufort County Detention Center Correctional Officer--have requested financial assistance from the "Help Save Gullah-Geechee Land Campaign" of the Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network, Inc.
Like dozens of other Gullah-Geechee families who own valuable property in urban and rural areas undergoing gentrification and Black property loss via codes enforcement, zoning regulations, and property taxes, they're in immediate need of technical, financial, and ---in some cases--legal assistance, to avoid becoming either homeless, or permanently displaced from ancestral property their families have owned for generations.
SUDDENLY EXPANDED WAITING LIST
That's why I'm making this special urgent appeal for them, as well as a list of more than 50 Gullah families on Hilton Head Island, SC, some of whom owe tax bill as high as $15,007.73, according to data provided to me by Alexander Brown, Jr., Chairman of the Planning Commission of the Town of Hilton Head Island. I received the list via email on Aug. 31st.
Brown and I work together on a host of issues impacting Gullah-owned property, because I represent PAFEN on the Town of Hilton Head Island Gullah-Geechee Land & Cultural Preservation Task Force.
TRANSPARENT TRACK RECORD OF AID
Through June 2018, the PAFEN has paid more than $27,000 in taxes to county treasurers in Beaufort, Colleton, and Georgetown counties to save Gullah-Geechee property with an assessed value of a recording breaking $2.5-million! But we're not resting on our laurels.
Unfortunately, it'll take at least another $75,000 to make a major dent in the local property taxes due ahead of the Beaufort County Delinquent Tax Sale on Oct. 1st. And we'll continue work on the rest of our now much expanded waiting list through both year end, and ongoing fundraising.
All donations to PAFEN are tax deductible. And as you may already know from our previous updates, your donations are well spent to help those who truly need it.
EXPANDED RESOURCE CAPACITY
I realized three years ago that it'll take a lot more than just money to help Gullah-Geechee families sustain long-term ownership of their ancestral homes and land.
So, PAFEN has been concentrating on training Gullah-Geechee property owners about the many resources available to help them keep their property in family hands, strategically manage their tax bills, and use their property to generate income.
We've also built resource partnerships with organizations such as the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Heirs' Property Preservation, the Native Island Business & Cultural Affairs Association (NIBCAA), and the National Action Network.
PAFEN has also held two annual STAND4LAND TAXPAYER EMPOWERMENT WORKSHOPs, which were open to all S.C. taxpayers who chose to attend.
And we opened the first satellite STAND4LAND TAXPAYER EMPOWERMENT INFORMATION KIOSK at the Plantersville Community Center in Georgetown County, SC earlier this year.
Our former one-room office didn't provide either adequate work or training space for our clients, small groups, volunteers, and interns.
But thanks to a generous anonymous donor, we've moved to a larger office that includes our first ever PAFEN Family Empowerment & Resource Training Center--with its own multi-media classroom that can expand to host up to 16 people!!!
Our address has now changed from the Region's Bank Building, 69 Robert Smalls Parkway, Suite 3B, Beaufort, SC 29906, to Suite 4E, which is just upstairs. This new space will allow us expand our outreach to churches, senior citizen centers, and other groups, as well as step up our fundraising.
We've also reached across state lines to begin a new partnership with the Georgia Heirs Property Law Center, ahead of opening our Savannah, GA satellite office, through our partnership with the Harambee House/Citizens for Environmental Justice!
As I've said before, we get most of the credit for saving Gullah-Geechee land. But without our dynamic and loyal donors, our land preservation efforts would go nowhere. So, please know that you're much appreciated!!!
Thanks for your support both in the past, and in the future! You continue to have the options of making your tax deductible donations via gofundme; the PAFEN website at pa-fen.org; or mailing a check to: PAFEN, P. O. Box 706, St. Helena Island, SC 29920.
I look forward to updating you about the new families we've helped shortly.
Peace and Blessings,
Three Gullah families who own historic homes in Beaufort built in 1880, 1890, and 1919, respectively. And four families whose property was sold at Delinquent Tax Sales in Beaufort and Georgetown counties--including two on the auction block over a hated annual $250 sewerline assessment fee that they couldn't afford to pay.
Those are among the categories of families helped by the "Help Save Gullah-Geechee Land Campaign" of the Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network, during the Second Quarter of 2018.
RECORD-SETTING $2.5-MILLION IN 2018
Thanks to the continued generosity of loyal donors like Juanita Lee and our anonymous Guardian Angel, and our new donor Robi Zocher, between May 17th and June 20th, PAFEN has spent $18, 635.95 to save Gullah-Geechee land in Beaufort, Colleton, and Georgetown counties with an assessed value of $815,800.
That brings our total of homes and land kept in Gullah-Geechee hands during the first six months of 2018 to a whopping $2,507,600!!! That's our second new record this year.
In the midst of celebrating our record-setting achievements in 2018, we received some shocking news.
Usually when I receive a check for almost $500 I'm very happy. But when I received a check for $498.30 from Beaufort County Treasurer Maria Walls, I felt like crying.
Why? Because it meant that the two elderly daughters of Geneva Robinson of the Sheldon Township Community had lost ownership of their paid for home--and 16.70 acres of land that has been owned by their family over 100 years.
As the result of the loss of their family property valued at $144,500, the devoted sisters, aged 70 and 77, will have to move to public housing in nearby Yemassee, SC, according to a family member.
That same family member had alerted me in January that the sisters needed help to pay their 2017 property tax bill. So, in my capacity as CEO of PAFEN, I paid their 2017 taxes for $498.30.
But at the time, none of us knew that the sisters hadn't paid their 2015 property taxes.
Consequently, their mother's property was sold over the unpaid 2015 taxes in 2016 to Tommy and Sheri O'Brien for a winning bid of just $29,000 And nobody paid their 2016 property taxes, or redeemed their property by the deadline in October 2017. Now the O'Briens are the new owners.
However, it seems strange that nobody in the family ever saw a sign required to be posted on the property alerting them that the property had been seized by Beaufort County for unpaid taxes.
I share this story with you as a reminder that the Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network has a limited amount of resources to help the many families who need both our financial and technical assistance.
Still, we make every effort to turn no one away who needs our help. And so far, by the grace of God, we've never lost a piece of property that we accepted an application for.
We do outreach to offer redemption assistance to families whose property has been sold at a Delinquent Tax Sale, and pay taxes to prevent property from being sold.
And referrals for assistance come to us from a variety of sources, including former clients and their relatives, ministers, the Beaufort County Treasurer's Office, and the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce.
Gullah-Geechee families can help us by ensuring that the elders provide younger family members with access to deeds and property survey plats, tax bills, wills, and detailed family trees showing who the legal heirs' to family-owned property are. Every effort should be made to get taxes paid early, and to avoid tax sales.
Families should also take advantage for free training on property tax reduction and other land saving issues offered by PAFEN, as well as the free budgeting and debt reduction classes offered by the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce.
As a part of PAFEN's community education/outreach efforts, our annual STAND4LAND TAXPAYER EMPOWERMENT WORKSHOP is open to all S.C. taxpayers regardless of race, or national origin.
Current, past, and potential donors can help us by supporting our "Help Save Gullah-Geechee Land Campaign" here on gofundme; remembering us in wills; volunteering at our office; sponsoring a fundraiser; spreading the word about what we do; becoming a member of PAFEN via the Membership Page on our website; pa-fen.org; or mailing a check to
PAFEN, P. O. Box 706, St. Helena Island, SC 29920.
All donations to PAFEN are tax deductible, and will be much appreciated.
Thanks in advance for your support,
Heirs preservation trust & pafen are 2 different organizations, I finally see, but I do appreciate both,. I was very glad to see the recent CNN coverage of this topic.
Thank you for your work Theresa (and others).
This is fantastic documentation of who you are and what you are doing. Several of my referrals have made donations but probably did not cite GGG as their source of info about this. Had my own money order prepared but had to convert it to an emergency