African American property owners to work with Mount Pleasant to protect their land

VIDEO: African American property owners to work with Mount Pleasant to protect their land

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC) - African American settlement communities are coming together to find ways to protect their property.

These communities were formed after freed slaves purchased land. The land and homes in these areas have been passed down for generations, but these communities are struggling to keep what’s theirs.

On Wednesday, Mount Pleasant council member Guang Ming Whitley organized a discussion among people who live in these settlement communities and others who are in the fight to protect them.

Some concerns that people have in these African American settlement communities are losing their properties to developers, flooding and over development surrounding their communities.

Some people who live in the area say they are losing its character. Property owners also say people are being taxed out of their home and selling their properties because they can no longer afford them.

The meeting was organized to discuss ways the Town of Mount Pleasant can help protect these properties.

Suggestions included an overlay district that would help keep settlement communities as they are and informing town leaders about the importance of African American history and protecting it.

While most of these communities are in Charleston County and have not been annexed into the Town of Mount Pleasant, people who live there say the decisions being made by the town’s leaders still impact them.

Phillips settlement community resident Richard Habersham says the quality of life is changing.

“We could get a little more consideration from the municipalities. Even though I’m not in the Town of Mount Pleasant, the Town of Mount Pleasant causes a lot of our problems with the over development,” Habersham says. “When these developers come in and say,'I want to change the zoning from the three houses per acre, I want six houses per acre, or I want all these apartment buildings,' [the town] should say,'No it doesn’t fit the character of that area.'”

There’s now a proposal to widen Highway 41 which cuts through the Phillips community. Habersham widening would displace people who live there now, and they prefer an option that would not push out the people who live there.

"It's disheartening because once you leave Mount Pleasant, you're not coming back, you can't afford to come back," Habersham said.

Former Mount Pleasant council member and community representative, Thomasena Stokes-Marshall, says it's important for people to work together along with members of council to solve the issues. She's also one of the founders of the African American Settlement Community Historic Commission.

"When our ancestors were freed as slaves and were able to work and gather some money where they could buy property, the goal was for their family members to always have the property so they have some place to live from generation to generation," Stokes-Marshall said.

She says developers target certain communities for their land.

"Most communities now where there are large tracks of land is in the African American community, the developers know this, the real estate industry knows this," Stokes-Marshall said. "So what do they do? They reach out into the African American community they know that in most cases it's heirs property so they go after one or two of those heirs and offer a couple $100,000 dollars to buy their share. That tears down the entire family structure."

Heirs property is a term used for property owned by two more more people usually with a common ancestor who died without leaving a will.

This was the first of several collective meetings that are expected to take place as this group works to protect settlement communities. These meetings will be open to the public.

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