Daufuskie on My Mind
I love Georgia, and I fell in love with Daufuskie Island during the making of Bizarre Foods America. Sallie Ann Robinson is a giant, an angel and a visionary who can also make a mean pot of crab rice. As you can see in the show, it’s one of the more special places we have ever visited.
Daufuskie is a residential “sea island” between Savannah, Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina, about 2.75 miles (4.43 km) offshore. The total island surface is just 8 square miles (21 km2) within the maximum length of 5 miles (8.0 km) and maximum width of 2.5 miles (4.0 km). Daufuskie has a full-time population of around 250. There are two resorts, a private residential community, and a large undeveloped tract of lands identified as residential property. The island’s recorded history traces back to pre-Revolutionary War. It was the site of a skirmish called the “Daufuskie Fight” during the Yemassee War of 1715–1717. The island was home to a sizable population of Gullah inhabitants from the end of the Civil War until very recently. Gullah are the descendants of freed slaves. The 1972 Pat Conroy book The Water is Wide was set on Daufuskie, fictionalized as “Yamacraw Island.” The book recounts Mr. Conroy’s experiences teaching on the island in the 1960s. The Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation (www.daufuskieislandhistoricalfoundation.org) has a museum with historical artifacts of the island as well as a display with information about the Gullah history of the island. The island is now split into five parts.
To the northeast is the Haig Point Club, a private, member owned residential club with around 150 year-round residents and over 225 homes.
South of Haig Point is the Daufuskie Resort. Formerly a private vacation club with an emphasis on golf and tennis, and offering a private residential component, this is now a publicly accessible resort. Farther south on the eastern side of the island is Oak Ridge, a small undeveloped oceanfront community, followed by Bloody Point, a private residential community.
The western part of the island is unincorporated land. Several dozen residents live in a variety of accommodations, from trailers to beautiful waterfront homes with private docks. This section of the island received federal designation as a Historical District in the early 80s. According to a study conducted by the Savannah College of Art and Design, the island has excellent examples of Gullah homes which have not been altered. There are decendants of the Gullah people living in this area on land which they have owned since just after the Civil War
When I left Daufuskie, I knew something wasn’t right. How could the interior of the island, a place with so much history, one of America’s great treasures, be surrounded by a gated community and populated with multi million dollar luxurious second/third homes? How could it survive? How did the few permanent residents of the isle deal with this, and would the island in years to come suffer the same fate as so many others have, culturally bulldozed to make way for the agenda of the few looking to take advantage of the underrepresented. Sallie Ann’s pal Don Newton sent me this email a few months back, I excerpted the following:
In “Souls of Black Folk,” W.E. B. Dubois speaks of a veil that shrouds Blacks in America; and the veil renders the wearer invisible. The social, economic and human health costs of life behind the veil are high. Even today, such costs remain overwhelmingly high for the residents in a historic Gullah neighborhood in Daufuskie Island’s Community Preservation (CP) District, Beaufort County, South Carolina. The Gullah people are the descendants of former slaves who returned to the bridgeless island after the Civil War. For over last 19 years, blacks and other residents of Daufuskie’s historic district received sub‐standard waste services—county owned and operated waste services that degraded their environment and potentially endangered their health. There is a history of stench at the “dump” that would “gag a maggot,” wrote one well known Daufuskie Island resident in an August 2010 newspaper article. He continued: *There was+ “garbage tea” leaking into the ground due to the exposure of garbage in open‐top dumpsters to the rain; “waste oil and battery acid dumping from golf carts; a three‐ring circus of buzzards, raccoons, possums, rats, and feral dogs and cats.” So other than a practice of continuing environmental injustice, what is the rub for some historic district (also called the community preservation (CP) district), landowners and residents in regard to the proposed new waste facility?
Is the disregard for black history and culture so blatant among high‐ranking county officials as to make it perfectly acceptable to build an island‐wide waste facility on land of historic significance to black people? The actual site for the county owned and operated waste facility is recorded in the National Historic Registry as “Robinson’s House (#93 on historic map)—the parcel is a “contributor” to Daufuskie Island’s designation as a historic district. Two key historic properties— the First African Union Baptist Church and the Mary Field School (#89 and #91 respectively on the historic map)—are in use today by residents across the island, are on the must‐see list for tourists, and are in close vicinity to the county’s proposed permanent waste facility.
Is the Dubois “veil” phenomenon preventing county officials from realizing their lawful responsibilities in the case of waste management on Daufuskie? Or alternatively, do we have life as usual where public agendas tend to be heavily influenced and driven by those with power, money, and political connections? In either case, blacks and the socio‐economically disadvantaged remain disenfranchised.
Now, you don’t have to pick sides if you don’t want to. Don and his wife live near one of the 5 existing garbage pic-up sites on the island. The residents want the garbage situation remedied without expanding a plant in the interior of the island. That’s the easy solution that the state seems to back and it’s amenable to many who live in the private developments on the coast. Out of sight, out of mind. But the reason I post this is that as I travel around the world I have become sensitized to the ongoing struggles of people trying to live their lives with dignity and respect. From the residents of Favela Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro to the boat people of Tongle Sap in Cambodia, from the homeless on the streets of San Francisco to the descendants of slaves whose ancestral homes on Daufuskie Island are the unwilling pawns in a real estate struggle that goes way beyond sewer and waste management issues. Rumors swirl that Beaufort county would rather put a dump site in the historic area than a park and that the local government is spending money on other projects that was allocated for Daufuskie.
Kyle Peterson is a local reporter who is following this story and here is a link to an older article of his. Anyone looking to write a letter or follow up on their own can contact the local government. My point is simple. When you visit a place as a traveler, sometimes in many ways you will never leave.
Sometimes when we visit a place, a little piece of it rubs off on you and you cant shake it. That’s the power of travel.