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One of America's last Gullah Geechee communities at risk following revamped zoning laws

Gullah Geechee community at risk
How one of America's last Gullah Geechee communities is at risk 02:09

Sapelo Island, Georgia — Sapelo Island is deeply rooted in West African Gullah Geechee culture.  

Forty-four families, all formerly enslaved people with Gullah Geechee heritage, settled on the Georgia island after the Civil War.

Among the descendants living there today is Nikki Williams.

"This is the closest thing you can get to being in Africa," Williams told CBS News. 

The Sapelo Island community of Hog Hammock is a little more than 400 acres in size and has fewer than 30 full-time families. There is no main street, just scattered homes. Scattered, just like more and more of the original families of this historic enclave.

In September, the McIntosh County Commission changed Sapelo Island's zoning laws so that home sizes can double. That move could potentially lead to million-dollar properties, raise property taxes and price out current homeowners.

"They have an extreme uphill battle," said McIntosh County Commissioner Roger Lotson — one of only two commissioners who voted against the new zoning laws.

Lotson was the only commissioner who agreed to talk to CBS News. He sees the situation "in part" as a battle of rich versus poor.

He also believes racial disparity could play a role as well, "Simply because there are not as many rich Black folks as there are rich White folks."

It means one of America's last intact Gullah Geechee communities is at risk.

"I can't see how you can't see how that hurts," Williams said. "And it's not just me. It's all of the descendants."

A community born in blood and tears is now sweating out its future. 

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