Dispossession of Land Cultures: Women and Property Tenure Among Lowcountry Heirs in the Gullah Geechee Corridor

Dispossession of Land Cultures: Women and Property Tenure Among Lowcountry Heirs in the Gullah Geechee Corridor

Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5079-2.ch007
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This chapter examined and presents the results of a heuristic and arts-based research and ongoing critical review of the Lowcountry heirs' property ownership and the recurrent generational challenges, governmental influences, and tourism impact on land dispossession and retention along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. In critically investigating this phenomenon of land dispossession, this study relied on Leavy's concept of coherence as it assessed the paucity of contemporaneous narratives of voices of women landowners. Land tenure, voice and land dispossession, freedom as ownership, and the culture of home/place are also explored as the legacy of the African diaspora, specifically among women landowners.
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The legacy of the African diaspora specific to contemporary heirs’ property owners across the Lowcountry and specifically among the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (GGCHC) remains a complex sociocultural and sociopolitical inheritance. Challenges to the culture have been expounded further by contemporary power dynamics from the tourism economy, past and present imperialist viewpoints, revisionist histories, land-water relationships, forestry cultivation and retention, past and present cotton economy, and indigenous land dispossession. Distinctions have been drawn between the aggregated Gullah/Geechee (GG) culture as unique cultural aspects of groups that parallel West African origins for the pre- and post-emancipated as well as for contemporary Sea islanders and those within state inland areas along the GGCHC (Boley & Gaither, 2016; Gaither, 2016; Huggins, Sun, & Davidson, 2018; Throne, 2016). Interest in heritage tourism has also increased exponentially among the Sea Islands especially due to water views and access to urban homes (Moore, 2017) expounding challenges among heirs’ property owners and preservation of land-based culture and value systems.

The current scholarship surrounding the ongoing legacy of land and voice dispossession among these descendants and heirs’ property ownership, including the study findings presented in this chapter, were reviewed with a lens of feminist theory, fidelity of researcher positionality, and ancillary gendered perspectives (Blakely, 2007; Hesse-Biber, 2007). Explication of the current research into women Lowcountry landowners is also presented among the broader context of the ongoing Lowcountry heirs’ property challenges along the GGCHC. While the GGCHC Commission has noted gender equity, specifically the equitable reference for the vision of both women and men, is an area of scholarly analysis (Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, 2012). Nonetheless, studies with respect to gender and the lived experiences of GG women specific to voice and land dispossession among islanders remain incomplete (Troutman & Johnson, 2018).

In this chapter, a comparison/contrast is offered for two forms of data representation that resulted from a critical inquiry and heuristic examination of the contemporaneous archival narratives gathered during the Port Royal Experiment: a scholarly journal article and an arts-based research (ABR) allegorical novella. The chapter offers a discussion of the use of the concepts of allegory, metaphor, and coherence to appraise a paucity of female perspectives for Lowcountry heirs’ property tenure and challenges, land dispossession, and the resulting voice dispossession of descendants of those former slaves, specifically those brought to the Sea Islands from West Africa and subsequently emancipated in the first year of the United States Civil War under the Port Royal Experiment (Rose, 1964; Ochiai, 2001)1.

Past researchers have noted the emancipated and resulting property heirs were members of a land-based culture that continues to be at risk today as land proffered and purchased under the Experiment remains a pertinent contemporary legal, economic, and cultural issue among the Sea Islands and the GG communities that inhabit these islands (Brabec & Richardson, 2007; Dyer & Bailey, 2008; Dyer, Bailey, & Van Tran, 2009; Jarrett, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008; Jones-Jackson, 2011; Ochiai, 2001; Pease, 1957; Rose, 1964; Twining & Baird, 1980a, 1980b).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Heirs’ Property: Heirs’ property is a form of tenancy in common and the term is commonly used along the GGCHC to refer to common land owned by multiple heirs whereby the original owner often died intestate and the land is typically passed down generation to generation outside of probate. Some report heirs’ property as a leading cause of land loss along the Corridor.

Allegory: Allegory is typically a work within the literary arts that depicts hidden or didactic meaning. Characters or persona are often symbolic figures of human existence or experience.

Flash Fiction: Flash fiction is a subgenre of short fiction, typically characterized of works less than 1,000 words in length.

Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (GGCHC): The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (GGCHC) is a federal national heritage center. It extends along the southeastern Atlantic coast to include North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida and the Gullah Geechee people. Gullah has been identified with those living along the Carolina segment of the corridor and Geechee with those along the Georgia and Florida segment of the corridor. Boley and Gaither (2016) noted the formation of the GGCHC brought together the GG reference, which may obscure distinctions among people with cultural or community alliances than the federally-defined GGCHC.

Arts-Based Research: Arts-based research is typically distinguished by any systematic research process that involves artistic or creative representation of data or methods used for data analyses of a phenomenon versus research forms that simply use arts products as data. Arts-based research is often framed by larger epistemological views of artistic knowing, aesthetic, and/or artistic inquiry and may involve the nature of art or creation.

Critical Inquiry: While definitions for critical inquiry may vary across disciplinary perspectives, it is often defined within qualitative research as research undertaken beyond the theoretical to intentionally engage the political discourse to advance the public good, social justice, power structures, or critical consciousness within a socially-just democratic society.

Metaphorical Truth: Metaphorical truth is often defined as a figurative device and technique used to convey complex multiple or layered meanings beyond literal interpretations of the illustration.

Lowcountry: The Lowcountry has been traditionally referred to as the 200-mile (322-kilometer) stretch of coastal South Carolina and Georgia.

Port Royal Experiment: The Port Royal Experiment was a program under the Lincoln Administration in the first year of the U.S. Civil War that freed approximately 10,000 former slaves among the liberated Sea Islands. Military resources and Northern support were dedicated to developing paths to freedom, education, and independence for the emancipated as a first experiment for Reconstruction.

Land Culture: The terms land culture or land-based culture are often used in indigenous cultures that view their responsibility as land curators versus land owners. As such, land is also often connected to the identity and spirituality of individuals within the culture.

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