A Georgia Community With an African Feel Fights a Wave of Change

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SAPELO ISLAND, Ga. — When Wevonneda Minis first came to this marshy barrier island where her ancestors had been rice-cultivating slaves, she learned of the dream her great-great-grandfather, Liberty Handy, had the night before he died. In the dream, people told her, a black cat scratched him.

The handing down of stories like that through the generations lies at the very marrow of life here among the rutted dirt roads and palmetto fronds of Hog Hammock, a community of about 400 acres, some 50 mostly elderly people and one store. Here, people remember the last time someone was bit by a snake (40-odd years ago) or called the midwife out of retirement (1968). They know the origin of the island’s odd place names — Behavior Cemetery, Nanny Goat Beach.

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. But now, the island has been discovered by speculators and wealthy weekenders.

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