Harris Neck is located along the coast in the northeast corner of McIntosh County, Georgia. It was once home to a prosperous and self-reliant community of 75 African American families. It has been described as a stunningly beautiful 2,687 acres of meadows, freshwater ponds and marsh. From the end of the Civil War until 1942, the community lived harmoniously with each other and their natural environment.
According to an article written by Scott Reid in Change.org, “The people lived off the land, creeks, rivers and ocean, and they took their crops, wild game and seafood to market in Savannah and Darien in small sailboats. They lived with nature, not apart from it, in a manner that would decades later come to be known as environmentally friendly and sustainable. They relied on the outside world for very little and preserved much of their African ways – a culture that came to be known as Gullah or Gullah-Geechie. A hard working and resourceful people, they had their own seafood processing plants, schoolhouse, general store and firehouse.”
In July 1942, the federal government condemned the 2,687 acres for the stated purpose of building an Army airfield. The people were given three weeks to vacate.
In 1961, the federal government reclaimed all 2,687 acres and conveyed title to the Department of Interior which created a National Wildlife Refuge, operated by US Fish & Wildlife.
In 1979, former members of the Harris Neck community and their descendants converge on Harris Neck in an attempt to reclaim their land. While legislation has been introduced in Congress to return Harris Neck, nothing yet has happened.
In an editorial written by Tom Barton in the Savannah Morning News on April 18, 2009 it was said, “Uncle Sam, using his power of eminent domain, acquired the 2,824 acres of lush woodlands and farmland at Harris Neck to build an airstrip for the U.S. Army. It gave the people who lived there only weeks to get out. Homes burned.”
The military said it needed this facility to train pilots and to improve surveillance along the Georgia coast, where German U-boats were taking their toll on American shipping in the early years of World War II. But a combination of homegrown corruption and Washington ineptitude conspired to cheat hard-working families out of land and money. Here’s what new research has found: Instead of getting a fair price for their land, black families got 40 percent less than white families who sold similar properties.
Certainly, it is time to correct this injustice.