Help Gullah culture survive
Change happens. Sometimes itís for the better. Sometimes not.
The changes that the coastal Gullah culture faces could be devastating.
The Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission, after years of study, is suggesting ways to defend the legacy of Gullah culture against the damage change is bringing. Its recommendations deserve serious consideration, including possible legislation to stop the loss of heirs property.
The rich Gullah culture, which began with slaves and has been preserved by their descendants, is tied to the land. But as the value of land along the coast has soared, it has become more difficult for families to hold on to their ancestral property,
Property is handed down from generation to generation, and the number of owners grows. That makes it unwieldy to resolve ownership disputes, and increasingly likely that one or more of the heirs would push to sell the property to willing developers.
Another challenge for owners of heirs property is that titles to it are often not clear. In the wake of the Civil War, land was given to freed slaves without benefit of legal documentation. To obtain a clear title can be exceedingly troublesome and expensive.
The Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor study proposes legislation that would make it more difficult for an heir with less than a 25 percent interest in a property to force its sale. It thus would become more of a challenge for a predatory purchase of heirs property.
But the long-term solution to heirs property problems is education. It isnít just property that has been passed along since emancipation. Even when heirs are in agreement, they must be aware of the law and their tax obligations if they are to maintain ownership.
The non-profit Center for Heirsí Property Preservation has as its mission educating communities where heirs property is an issue. It also offers mediation and legal assistance when all heirs are in agreement.
As people move in and out of communities in coastal South Carolina, its distinguishing characteristics are threatened. Stories are forgotten and customs fade away.
It is important that we help preserve the Gullah culture, which is a defining part of our entire region.