Harris Neck: It will take an act of Congress to right this wrong

Jim Galloway has written an excellent article about the resurrection of efforts to seek justice for the former McIntosh County, Georgia residents (and their descendants) who were evicted from their land during World War II to make way for a military base that was never built.  And after the war, instead of returning the land as promised to the people it belonged to—who happened to be black—the federal government eventually turned it into the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.

For decades, the land’s rightful owners fought to regain what had been lost, to no avail. It appeared to be a dead issue—one of those historical injustices that appeared to be cast in stone (and may yet be). The only possible solution would involve changing the law. It would take an act of Congress to remedy the siutation.

But now, thanks to a high-profile Atlanta lawyer Robert Highsmith, who’ willing to take on the case pro bono, the members of the Harris Neck Land Trust have another chance to regain their land. Highsmith’s firm did similar work to gain reparations for black victims and survivors of the 1923 racial atrocities in Rosewood, Florida. (African-Americans expelled from Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912 never received any compensation, by the way.)

Galloway has done a good job of covering the history of the case, and his piece is well worth reading in its entirety. 

One obstacle attorneys face may be opposition from environmentalists who wouldn’t want to see the pristine coastal land repopulated. Another is documentation. Galloway writes:

“Our task will be to do a lot of intense research and document these claims. What we have now is this rich oral history,” Highsmith said.

The toughest hurdle may be nailing down the promise from the federal government that the land would be returned to the original owners. Nothing on paper has yet been discovered. And may not exist.

“Do you really think that black fishermen, in McIntosh County in the early 1940s, were accustomed to asking white people in government if they could have it in writing? You think that’s how it worked?” Highsmith asked.

 

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