Monday, May 5, 2008

A distinct rural culture under threat

A story in yesterday's New York Times depicted an extreme example of several characteristics associated with rural communities, among them inter-generational attachment to place and remoteness. The story is about Sapelo Island, Georgia, and more specifically, the community of Hog Hammock.

Journalist Shaila Dawan describes the place, which has been "discovered by speculators and wealthy weekenders."

Reachable only by boat or ferry, Hog Hammock is one of the last settlements of the Geechee people, also called the Gullah, who in the days before air-conditioning and bug repellent had the Sea Islands virtually to themselves and whose speech and ways, as a result, retained a distinctly African flavor.

Unlike many rural communities under similar threat, Hog Hammock's residents are not ambivalent about development and what it brings. They adamantly oppose it, and say they need help holding on to their land. The story's closing quote is from an island resident.

“On the verge of sounding racist — which I have been accused of, which I don’t give a hoot — I would rather my community be all black,” said Cornelia Bailey, an island historian, writer and proprietor of a bed and breakfast called the Wallow. “I would rather have my community what it was in the ’50s. . . .My land is for my children, my grandchildren and even for the unborn. ”

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