The Newsletter of the Sapelo Island
Cultural & Revitalization Society Inc.
Winter 2006 / Online Edition


Grants help fund preservation, economic development

The Sapelo Island Cultural & Revitalization Society Inc. has been awarded four new grants to assist the organization with its mission to preserve the island’s Gullah-Geechee culture.
A three-year award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will help SICARS lay the groundwork for a Cultural Village interpretive history center and affordable housing in Hog Hummock.

Grants from the state of Georgia and the River Branch Foundation will help restore the Farmers Alliance Hall this year, and an award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation will help SICARS implement a fund-raising plan for the project.

Here’s a look at the awards and how each will impact the island community:

Rural Housing and Economic Development Grant
The three-year award is administered by HUD’s Office of Rural Housing and Economic Development. The $149,875 capacity-building grant is based on the highest priorities in SICARS’ Strategic Plan for economic development, affordable housing, and the future sustainability of Hog Hummock on Sapelo Island.

The grant will fund the following objectives:

  • Create a database or inventory of housing stock, land ownership, leasing options, etc., to monitor and maintain projects and explore alternative sites for housing and economic development projects.

  • Integrate funding needs into SICARS’ annual fundraising plan using the HUD dollars to leverage project implementation funds. Fundraising initiatives are vital to effectively getting the housing/economic development project off the ground.

  • Conduct feasibility studies and market analysis for affordable housing and economic development projects in Phase 1 of the Hog Hummock Community Land Use Plan, specifically the Cultural Village and affordable housing designed to support employees/residents. Affirmative steps are being taken to reach minority firms, women’s business enterprises, and labor surplus areas in bidding these studies.

Georgia Heritage Grant
SICARS’ Farmers Alliance Hall restoration project is one of eight projects throughout the state to receive the Georgia Heritage Grant for fiscal year 2006.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue announced the $20,000 award in September, shortly before the11th annual Cultural Day festival. The Farmers Alliance Hall is the site of the event which includes live entertainment, cultural demonstrations, island cuisine, and arts and crafts vendors.

The Georgia Heritage Grant Program is administered by the Historic Preservation tion Division of the Georgia Department Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The program provides matching grants for development and predevelopment projects which include stabilization and preservation.

Statewide, the Georgia Heritage Grants totaled $100,000.

“These modest ‘seed’ grants energize preservation projects,” said Ray Luce, director of the Historic Preservation Division of DNR, in a printed statement about the award. “Our communities and our state are richer because of the state’s commitment to heritage stewardship.”

SICARS’ mission is to preserve the Gullah-Geechee culture and history of Sapelo Island, the site of Hog Hummock, one of the last intact, island-based Gullah-Geechee communities in the United States.

The Farmers Alliance Hall is a prominent historic structure on Sapelo Island. It was built in 1929 by Geechee freedmen and the descendants of slaves as a storage market for agricultural products. The two-story wooden building also served as a meeting place for three African-American Masonic organization — the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons; The Order of the Eastern Stars; and The Evergreen Lodge of the Good Samaritans.

When the restoration is complete next fall, the Farmers Alliance Hall will be used as a museum and continue to serve as an important community gathering place.

River Branch Foundation
The Jacksonville, Fla,-based River Branch Foundation primarily supports projects in the metropolitan area, but beyond the city’s boundaries is “involved in compelling projects which promote the region’s educational and social progress, its environmental improvement, and the strengthening of its cultural life.” The foundation awarded SICARS a $10,000 grant for the Farmers Alliance Hall project. In addition to the direct project support for the restoration, this grant will help meet the 1:1 matching funds required for the state grant.

National Trust Preservation Fund
The National Trust Preservation awarded SICARS a $1,635 grant to help support the hiring of a consultant to complete a Fund-Raising Implementation Plan for the Farmers Alliance Hall. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, chartered by Congress in 1949, is a nonprofit organization with more than 20,000 members. As a leader in the national preservation movement, it is committed to saving America’s diverse historic environments and to preserving and revitalizing the livability of communities nationwide. In 2004, the Trust designated the Gullah/Geechee Coast as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The grant was made possible by several generous individuals who established the African American Preservation Fund within the Trust. Funds are awarded to nonprofit groups and public agencies and must be matched dollar for dollar with public or private funds.


Cultural Day memories

By Michele Nicole Johnson
SICARS Program Officer

Sweetgrass coiled. Peanuts boiled.
Hot funnel cakes swirled as the Shouters’ dresses twirled.
Feet were a-stompin’. The stick man steady thumpin’.
Deep-fried this-and-that. Storytellers reaching back.
Tales of slavery. Songs of praise.
A glimpse of those bittersweet “good ole days.”
Clear blue sky. Headwraps piled so elegant … so high.
A taste of culture — African style.
The warmth, the pride as our ancestors smiled.

If you missed the sights and sounds of Cultural Day 2005 — or if you simply want to feel good all over again — the next Cultural Day festival will be Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006, on the grounds of the Farmers Alliance Hall.

Tickets go on sale in May. (Wear your dancing shoes.)

Cultural Day is SICARS’ annual celebration of Sapelo Island’s Gullah-Geechee culture featuring entertainment, crafts and Geechee cuisine.

The festival was sponsored by Georgia Power, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Brunswick and the Highland Research and Education Center.

Meet the 2006 Board Officers
Board officers and two new board members were elected in September 2005. Ronald Johnson ends his term as board president after 9 years of service. Cornelia Walker Bailey replaces Larry Johnson who resigned in August. Edna Holmes replaces Andrea Dixon whose term ended. Former board secretary Karen Grovner was re-elected.

BOARD PRESIDENT
Charles Hall

Retired Lt. Col. in Air Force Reserve. Owned chain of physical therapy clinics in Ohio. Lives on Sapelo Island and on Hilton Head, S.C.

BOARD VICE PRESIDENT
Jonathan Williams

Mayor Pro Tem, City Commissioner in Brunswick, Ga. Retired assistant principal and coach. Loves boating.

BOARD TREASURER
Herbert Jerome Dixon

Honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps. Has an accounting degree from Morgan State. Makes sweetgrass baskets.

BOARD SECRETARY
Gracie L. Chandler
Retired teacher/school media specialist who lives in Jacksonville, Fla.
Member of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.

BOARD MEMBER
Eldora Cabral

Retired from the Cloister Hotel, Sea Island, Ga. Involved with Garden Club, Eastern Star.

BOARD MEMBER
Sarah Frances DeLoach

Conducts tours of Sapelo Island and serves as SICARS’ Volunteer Coordinator.

BOARD MEMBER
Karen Grovner

Medical billing/insurance specialist. Heads Sunday School at First African Baptist, Sapelo Island.

BOARD MEMBER
Edna Holmes

Customer Service Manager for the City of Brunswick. Daughter of Eldora Cabral.

BOARD MEMBER
Cornelia Walker Bailey

Sapelo Island historian, storyteller and business owner. Author of memoir God, Dr. Buzzard and the Bolito Man.

BOARD MEMBER
Ronald L. Johnson

Jewelry designer and business owner in South Florida. SICARS’ immediate past president.

BOARD MEMBER
Willie Mae Robinson

Retired Savannah State University assistant professor of social work/administrative. Volunteers with seniors, prison ministry.

Membership Meeting, 10 a.m. to noon, Feb. 25, 2006. Agenda: Committee reports, new business and announcements. The SICARS committees include: Membership, Negotiating, Finance/Audit, Events, Fund-raising, Governmental Relations, Public Relations, Physical Assets, Community Network, Tax Digest Research, Volunteers, Library and Computer Lab, Youth Development, Speakers Bureau and Genealogy Project.


Right of First Refusal

Q: What is a Right of First Refusal?
A:
A Right of First Refusal is an agreement a property owner makes with SICARS. If a land owner decides to sell his land and receives an offer, he agrees to give SICARS the right to match the terms and conditions of the offer. Land retention and historic preservation is SICARS’ mission. By signing a Right of First Refusal agreement, a descendant who is a land owner gives SICARS a fair opportunity to acquire land in the community and protect it from development by outside interests.

Q: Once the land owner has an offer, how does it notify SICARS?
A:
The land owner must give SICARS written notice about the offer. SICARS then has 90 days to match the offer. This gives SICARS some time to put together the money to purchase the land.

Q: What if the terms and conditions are changed by the landowner or a prospective purchaser after SICARS has been notified?
A:
The landowner must give SICARS written notice of any changes in the terms and conditions, including the price. SICARS then has 90 days after receipt of the changes to match the new proposal. If any offer for the property is revoked, the land owner must notify SICARS within five days.

Q: What happens if SICARS does not exercise its right of first refusal?
A:
If SICARS decides it will not exercise its right of first refusal, it will let the land owner know in writing and the landowner is then free to sell the property. If SICARS doesn’t respond within 90 days of receiving the written notice, the land owner may proceed with the terms and conditions set forth in the written notice without any further obligation to SICARS.

Q: How long does the agreement between SICARS and the land owner last?
A:
The Right of First Refusal runs with the title to the property. In other words, it is binding upon the current owner and his/her successors and assigns. The agreement also is binding upon SICARS’ successors and assigns.

Q: Does the Right of First Refusal take away any of the land owner’s rights?
A:
The only right being given up is the right to sell immediately. The land owner must give SICARS 90 days to come up with the financing to purchase the property. SICARS’ hope is to be able to keep as many homes on the island available and affordable to descendants as it can. It is creating a Land Fund that can be used to purchase property when it goes on the market. Because there are so few acres of land available on Sapelo, and the cost of land is rising so fast, the Right of First Refusal is a simple tool that can be used to give Hog Hummock a chance to protect homes and land for its families for the future.

Q: How do I learn more?
A:
Forms are available at the SICARS Center and the staff is available to answer any questions you might have.

Sources: Equity Trust (www.equitytrust.org). Investopedia.com.


Lab upgraded
The Three Rivers Regional Library System, of which the Hog Hummock Public Library and Computer Lab is a member, recently was awarded a $2,000 Networking Grant from the Georgia Public Library Service/Library Services and Technology Act.

“And we spent it all in Hog Hummock,” said Lee Moon, Glynn County Library Information Technology Specialist. The grant money was used to install a battery backup and a firewall on the computers in the community lab.

The battery backup will keep the computers running after a power outage. The firewall will help keep hackers out of the computers.

“You’re so remote.” said Moon, referring to life on Sapelo Island. “We can’t just come over and fix problems. You live in a challenging environment for technology.”

Park gets facelift
The Hog Hummock Community Playground recently got a facelift thanks to volunteers from First United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Ga. Members of the church’s Methodist Activity Center spent two days fixing and replacing playground equipment. Island residents pitched in. Mary Bailey and Ben Hall of Sapelo Island coordinated the project with the church volunteers who were lead by Robert Sapp. The playground is owned by the Hog Hummock Community Foundation.

Genealogy project
SICARS Genealogy Project Committee is updating and correcting “Sapelo Island: The Black Heritage,” a state-sponsored genealogical study done in 1980. The study documented 44 black families living on Sapelo Island in 1870 and included “important members of the community afterward.”

The committee will host a Genealogy Workshop at 10 a.m.-noon on March 18, to explain the family tree research process. Details about the workshop are still being planned. If you want to participate on the committee or attend the workshop, please call SICARS at (912) 485-2197.

Sapelo on TV
Over the summer a Chicago-based television documentary film crew spent several days shooting footage and interviewing residents of Sapelo Island.

A Will to Survive: The Story of the Gullah-Geechee Nation, will air on television in February as part of Wal-Mart’s Vision of Color series. Go to blackvoices.aol.com/ voicesofcolor for stations and air times. Also look for Sapelo’s Yvonne Grovner in film ads in the February issues of Essence and Ebony.


Committee resolves differences
By Benjamin Hall
Hog Hummock Conflict Resolution Representative

During the development of the Sapelo Island Comprehensive Management Plan in 1997, it became apparent that some provision should be included to preserve the unique measure of self-governance that we enjoy on the island, and reduce the promotion of conflicting interests. 

These interests were often narrow in scope and generated an atmosphere of distrust and apprehension among the various stakeholders on the island. This realization formed the basis for creating a conflict resolution committee that was charged with the task of resolving differences among the various parties in a way that is fair and impartial.

The present structure of the committee consists of two representatives from the Hog Hummock Community, one from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, one from the University of Georgia’s Marine Institute, and one from the Reynolds Mansion.

One of the challenges confronting the committee is finding solutions to the parking problems at Marsh Landing dock. Given the reality that the parking lot at the western end of the Marsh Landing dock causeway will not be enlarged, it is appropriate that an attitude of tolerance and patience be displayed during loading and unloading of the island ferry.

A new long-term lot is being constructed nearby, but patience still will be necessary. This is especially true when accommodating large groups. Compliance with the three-day parking rule at Marsh Landing will reduce congestion in the parking area and increase safety for pedestrians. Cooperation is required of everyone to reduce confrontations and improve the overall ferry operation.


By Fred Hay
Georiga Department of Natural Resources

Dean Creek bridge out for bid again
The Georgia Dept. of Transportation has put the Dean Creek bridge out for bid a third time. This round was set to close on Jan. 20. By Feb. 3, the Ga. Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) should have word from the Department of Transportation about whether or not the contract was awarded. If this attempt is unsuccessful, DNR will seek short-term alternatives that will restore limited vehicular access to the south end beaches.

Name the new ferry
GeoShipyard is on schedule in its construction of the new Sapelo Island ferry. DNR representatives have already made one visit to Geo’s facility in New Iberia, La., and have plans to make additional visits throughout the construction process. The new ferry will be a catamaran design with twin, electronically injected Caterpillar C-18s. The ferry is going to carry 149 passengers as the AnneMarie does, however, there will be seating for each passenger. The cost of the new ferry is about $1.5 million. Delivery is expected by October 2006.

DNR is seeking input on naming the new vessel. If you have ideas about this, please send them to Fred Hay (see contact info below). Time is of the essence so don’t wait if you have any ideas!

Parking at Marsh Landing
If you live or work on Sapelo Island, you have likely seen construction of the new parking area just east of Marsh Landing, past DNR’s residence on the north side of the road. Once completed, this site will provide space for those who require parking in excess of three consecutive days. The parking spaces down at the ferry dock will continue to be for short-term parking for those who come and go on a daily basis.

Meridian Causeway repairs
DNR is working with EMC Engineering to design and repair the eroding causeway at Meridian. The need to preserve the creek channel for barge operations has limited DNR’s options for construction. EMC will soon be back at Meridian to conduct soil surveys. These surveys will help determine what type of retaining structures will best suit our site. DNR apologizes for the inconvenience during this planning phase. Please be patient as we move forward!

Fred Hay is Sapelo Island Manager for the Georgia
Department of Natural Resources. He can be reached at
(912) 485-2251 or fred_hay@dnr.state.ga.us.


Free to be me, at last!
By Winnie C. Beasley

How shall I begin?

Let me say that I never expected to find a place in these United States where I could feel at home — instantly. There was a sweet combination of pride and peace that enveloped the air as I walked the dusty roads bordered by sawtooth palmettos, pines, sweet grass, and, of course, persistent, curious, nearly invisible gnats. These were interspersed with a sudden flurry of welcoming butterflies that danced around me. An occasional truck would pass and the driver would wave as if he knew me. Unaccustomed to the friendliness, I had to tell myself to return the greeting whether or not I knew who it was.

Obviously, I wasn’t from these parts, but I wanted to be — desperately. From the very first day, I wanted to call this solemn refuge of groves of ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss — home. Something about it just felt right.

Someone once said that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. Such was Sapelo for me.

‘I was with family’
My heart throbbed with happiness with every encounter I made. Everyone appeared serene and cheerful or, at least, hospitable to this stranger. I stopped feeling like a foreigner the moment I met Cornelia, a woman of great spiritual strength and love and passion for Hog Hummock, home to descendants of a single slave. Besides that, Cornelia’s grandmother, sister and I share the same name. That fact alone convinced me I was family! Actually, from the moment I set foot on the Sapelo Queen at Meridian, pursued by seagulls, and met by Cornelia’s husband at the island’s dock, I was home.

I spent some time in West Africa recently and there I noticed that, in spite of the poverty and deprivation, a soul-stirring spirit prevailed among the people wherever I went. Even those with no shoes walked tall and proudly as if unaware of their plight of material insufficiency. They smiled broadly with pearly white teeth and greeted each and everyone with charm and cheer and a special brand of sweet humility the world would claim was nonexistent in the land dubbed the “dark continent”. Every mythical stereotype I had believed until then was shattered during that visit. I delighted in the community spirit, the love of their languages, the food, the customs, the ancestral reverence, the humor, the courtesies, the respect for elders, the love of their children, the respect for motherhood, the power of fatherhood, the profound strength of the African male, the hard-working ethic of all, the colors, the melodies, the “call and response” songs, the talking drums — all of these reminded me of the best among Black folk in America.

Finding ‘little Africa’
Little did I realize that in one little corner of the American soil I would find “little Africa” on Sapelo — the love of community, pride in their slave history because those unfortunates were their family; respect for the griot, knowledge of their ancestors (by name) as well as their characteristics, cast-netting, basket-weaving, Geechee, (a real language, not broken English as some would have us believe), resourcefulness, pride in their endurance under hideous, inhuman conditions, strength of character; a love of their land; a song in their heart; a shout; a prayer on their tongues; and an abiding faith in God and all that He created.

‘Long live Sapelo!’
All of these wonderful qualities were personified on Cultural Day, a day I shall never miss celebrating from this moment on, God willing. Everything there is to love about Black folk and where we’ve come from and who we are and who we want our children to be bursts at the seams on Cultural Day. That is Sapelo! Long live Sapelo!

If I could spend the rest of my days there, I pray God shows me a way to make it happen. Meanwhile, I would count it a privilege to lend a heart and a hand to helping to preserve Hog Hummock. (The Farmers Alliance Hall is at the top of the list.) I urge those of you who are able to join me.

Help save Hog Hummock’s life! Horace Mann once said, “Be ashamed to die before you’ve won some victory for humanity.”

Tell me what to do, and I’ll be there. Long live Sapelo! My home sweet home!

Winnie C. Beasley is an Associate Member of SICARS. She lives in Massachusetts. The Griot welcomes articles, poetry and photographs from SICARS members who have visited Sapelo Island. Share your experiences and your memories. Drop off stories at the SICARS Center; mail them to P.O. Box 6, Sapelo Island, GA 31327; or e-mail info to sicarsferry1@aol.com. Our fax number is (912) 485-2263.


A “griot” (pronounced “gree-oh”) is a storyteller/historian — and much more — in many African cultures. These individuals embody their ethnic heritage and share its history through words, art, music and dance.