African American News and Genealogy

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Ex-slaves' land heirs feel island shift

Coastal S. Carolina's Gullah-Geechees find ancestral plots are vulnerable to grabsBy Dahleen GlantonTribune national correspondentPublished July 11, 2006 WARSAW ISLAND, S.C. -- No one in Sargent Parker's family ever gave much thought to the 26 acres of marshland he bought in 1869, six years after becoming a free man. But everyone knew it was there, sheltered behind rows of palmetto trees, as a reminder of the family's rich heritage.The story of how Parker, who died in 1915 at age 85, purchased the land has been passed down through generations. It was four years after Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15, ordering every freed slave to be given 40 acres. But after the directive was rescinded, blacks were forced to return the land. Emancipated slaves such as Parker then worked hard as sharecroppers to raise the $1.25 an acre needed to buy soggy marshland deemed undesirable by whites. By 1869, former slaves whose descendants are known as Gullah-Geechees owned half of Beaufort County.So everyone was shocked last October when Richardean Aiken, the widow of Parker's great-great-grandson, was browsing the newspaper and saw a legal notice that a portion of the land had been sold and that the new owner was attempting to acquire clear title. No one in the family had agreed to sell it, and all insisted they never would.`This can't be happening'"I said, `Oh hell no, this can't be happening,'" Aiken said before getting on the phone and calling her relatives. "When I saw Sargent Parker's name, I knew something was wrong."Throughout coastal South Carolina, Gullah-Geechee people have been fighting for decades to hold onto property left to them by their ancestors. But often there is no will, making it difficult to prove ownership, even when taxes have been paid on the land for generations. Many of the problems are due to infighting among family members. It takes only one heir to agree to sell the property for a dispute to be settled by a judge and the land to end up being auctioned. Full Story:,1,7098536.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true


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