Under the old oaks Thursday, six families lost their homes. Gloria Asby's mobile home was the first to go. The movers jacked up the home, put it on a trailer and removed the cinder blocks, all in just 40 minutes.
"No more Pinefield Road," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "All those years my daddy lived on the land, all those things our daddy did for us - it's all gone now."
In the late 1800s, her father, Hector Rivers, the son of a slave, took possession of the land - 17 acres on Cainhoy peninsula's Pinefield Road.
When Hector died in 1972, his son, Johnny Rivers, kept paying the taxes. He built a dock to Clouter Creek, kept the grass cut and the bushes down. He also let his daughters put mobile homes on the property. His sister, Gloria Asby, moved onto the land in 1991 after her husband died. There were seven homes in all, a small family village.
But, like many people in rural South Carolina, Johnny Rivers didn't have the title to the land. And when another heir filed a lawsuit demanding the entire tract be sold and the proceeds be divided among all the heirs, the family compound's days were numbered.
Master-in-Equity John B. Williams eventually agreed that the land should be sold and recently ordered Berkeley County deputies to move the mobile homes off the property.
More than 25 people, including a dozen children, had to move Thursday.
A handful of plainclothes deputies and a moving company showed up just before 10 a.m.
"A sad day," Lt. Jimmy Mixson said, adding that it was the most people his department had evicted at once in his nine years of handling such situations. "We're caught in the middle," he said, shaking his head.
Movers quickly went to work on Asby's mobile home. "I was born back here. That was 58 years ago," she said. "All of us were born back here. What hurts the most is that family is making us move, and they're the ones who have a place to stay. I don't have any money. I might as well get a blanket and go under a tree."
Moments later, the movers carefully towed the house underneath some old live oaks, brushing through the branches and Spanish moss, and Asby looked at the spot where her home had been.
"I went to my my mama and daddy's grave the other day," she said. "Sometimes I go there to talk to them. My daddy was 100 years old when he died. I said, `Daddy, you lived here all these years and worked so hard. Now it's like we were never here.' I felt like lying down in the grave next to my mama and covering myself up, but then she told me it's going to be all right."
Nearby, Johnny Rivers stood under an old oak tree and pointed to three other trees with thick trunks and elephantine limbs. "Those big trees used to be so small that I could have plowed them up with just a horse and a plow. But I decided to save them."
During the court fight, Rivers hoped he might be allowed to live on a small piece of the 17-acre tract. He had lived on the land all his life — 69 years — and paid the taxes and thought this should count for something.
"They said no," said Mark Lund, his attorney, referring to negotiations with Blondell Wigfall, the heir who brought the lawsuit, and her attorney, William Peagler of Moncks Corner.
It's unclear who will buy the land. Woodie Smith, a Summerville businessman, had offered $910,000 but backed out because of the controversy. He said he heard that a group of investors wanted the property. Wigfall and Peagler declined to comment.
Rivers has filed a court appeal, but state law allows evictions to proceed anyway. The judge allowed him to stay in his house, which can't easily be moved, until the property actually is sold. But the rest of his family had to go Thursday. They'll move their mobile homes to properties owned by other relatives and Fred Lincoln, a community leader who agreed to help.
Rivers' daughter, Norma Jean, collapsed soon after the movers arrived. Family members helped her stay on her feet as she sobbed. Seven months pregnant, she works at Sandpiper Retirement Village in Mount Pleasant. "We knew they were coming," she said after she sat down. "But when you see it really happening. ..." She paused. "Maybe some good will come of it. Good outnumbers the bad in this world."
As she said this, her father and mother joined hands with neighbors and formed a circle underneath the oaks. They prayed for strength. They raised their hands to the sky in praise. "God made us a beautiful day," Rivers said of the cool fall weather. He hugged his family and friends. But across the driveway, workers finished removing a second mobile home and began work on the others.