by Dean Hardy and Nik Heynen in Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space

Sapelo map

Credit: Environment & Planning E 2021

The history of land struggles in the United States demonstrates how ongoing patterns of uneven development depend upon and codify the legacies of white supremacy. In this article, we show how the histories of white supremacy continue to be embedded and institutionalized into contemporary land and property politics through the processes of racialized uneven development using the case of Sapelo Island, Georgia. We trace the history of property relations on Sapelo over four periods (covering 1802–2020) to reveal how Black, Saltwater Geechee descendants’ presence on the island has persisted despite manifold attempts to manipulate, control, and dispossess families of their land. We re-interpret Sapelo’s history through the lens of abolition ecology to articulate how the struggle for life through land consistently runs up against state-sanctioned racial violence, which perpetuates and institutionalizes systemic racialized uneven development. We argue that the “racial state” is facilitating the dispossession of Geechee cultural heritage, which lies in having access to and ownership of the land and requires new political imaginaries to combat the persistence of these tactics.

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