We Have Two Weeks to Save the State of Georgia from Desecrating Sacred ‘Weeping Time’ Land for a Brewery (and I believe we can)

Butler Island Plantation, a historic site in Darien, Georgia
Butler Island Plantation, sacred ‘Weeping Time’ descendants land, Darien, GA

Please sign the petition to help us save this sacred land.

On March 2 and 3, 1859, at Savannah’s Ten Broeck Racetrack, Pierce Butler sold 436 men, women, and children including 30 babies, many of whom had lived their entire lives together on Butler estates, to buyers and speculators from New York to Louisiana. It was the largest recorded slave auction in US history and it singlehandedly separated hundreds of African American families.

On June 11, 2020, the Georgia Senate’s National Resources Committee will meet to attempt to pass GA House Bill 906, which will enable the state to gift land on the Butler Island Plantation — the historic site and sacred last “home” many of these 436 human beings knew, and the site of immeasurable racial violence and suffering — to a developer for a brewery.

The historic narrative of the Butler Island Plantation House and the fifteen (15) surrounding acres in Darien, Georgia is of local, state, national, and international significance as it is the former plantation site owned by a signer of the Declaration of Independence-Major Pierce Butler, the site where more than 900 enslaved people lived beginning in the late 1700s, where historical artifacts remained buried, and where more than 400 of the enslaved persons were chained, transported for sale, and eventually sold to the highest bidder in Savannah, Georgia on March 2–3, 1859. This historic moment in history is known as “The Weeping Time.”

“On the eve of the Civil War,” Dr. Anne C. Bailey, acclaimed slavery scholar and professor at Binghamtom University (SUNY) writes in The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History, her award winning account of the auction and what happened to these families afterward, “this unprecedented sale was noteworthy not only for its size but because Butler Plantation slaves were generally not sold on the open market before; many lived their entire lives on Butler’s estates. Surely, these lives were difficult and burdensome, but together they formed a community with its own norms, values, and customs — often informed by their shared African heritage. Now they were displaced from their “home” and separated from their families. It is for this reason the slaves called the auction ‘The Weeping Time.’”

On Butler’s estates, Enslaved Africans shared community and heritage, and also the horrors of violence and genocide.

Pierce Butler owned and operated two Butler plantations: Butler Island Plantation, just outside the center of Darien, GA, and Hampton Point Plantation, on nearby St. Simons Island. Butler’s overseer was the monstrous Roswell King.

“Roswell King was known to have fathered over 60 children, by raping the Enslaved women at the Hampton Point Plantation property,” Tiffany Young, a descendant of ancestors that were enslaved on Hampton Point Plantation states. “The women that refused to adhere to King’s abuse were known to be thrown in the plantation’s nearby jail on St. Simons Island.”

Young, together with Annette Holmes, a descendant of ancestors who were enslaved on Butler Island, have formed a Pierce-Butler owned descendants’ group called African American Origins. The group has been meeting and conducting research on their genealogy as well as the art, history and culture of Enslaved Africans who dwelled on the coast of Georgia for 15 years.

On Butler Island, Young states that there are over 80 Enslaved bodies underwater due to the ‘cut through’ of the property to build the Interstate I-95. She asks: ‘This is sacred ground where our ancestors endured the pain and suffering of this Antebellum circa. How do we tell this story if the land is turned into a beer distillery?”

GA Senate committee members considering passing HB906 must be asked to consider: How is offering land to a private developer for a brewery on this sacred ground of suffering and history different from opening a beer hall at Auschwitz, or a shopping center on a battlefield in Gettysburg, PA? How much more of this land must be traded for political gain and material wealth? How must precious heritage must we lose? And for what?

The changes sought with HB906 would allow for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), upon approval of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Board, to remove (per property) a maximum of 15 acres from a state heritage preserve and convey fee simple title to “a willing county or local government or private entity.” “Private entity” is defined as “any natural person, corporation, general partnership, limited liability company, limited partnership, joint venture, business trust, public benefit corporation, nonprofit entity, or other business entity.” This business entity could be, and is in this case, a private developer who wants to put a beer hall on sacred ‘Weeping Time’ descendants land, designated as one of Georgia’s 10 ‘Places in Peril’ of 2019, which also sits in the middle of a vulnerable, impoverished community.

This bill is a human rights insult to thousands of African Americans who were enslaved and suffered on Butler Island Plantation land, and a tragic missed opportunity. Instead of being developed by a private entity, the land and structures on it could be preserved and offered by the state or other nonprofit organizations for education and healing. A similar fate will undoubtedly befall other sacred GA state heritage preserve lands if HB906 passes.

We must kill this bill to save ‘Weeping Time’ descendant space because it is sacred, and we must kill it to save ourselves. How will any of us heal if we don’t bear witness to these stories, this land, these wounds? What occurred on this site is important history. The Butler Island Plantation House and the surrounding acreage is America’s Holocaust.

‘The Coalition to Save Butler Island’ have worked for many months to prevent passage of HB 906 from getting to the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee of the (GA Dept. of Natural Resources). They need our help now.

I believe we can stop HB906 by telling this story. I believe we can sound the alarm on a national scale by sharing this story on social media and helping to get it written elsewhere. So please share it and sign the petition. And, if you know someone in the media or elsewhere who might be able to elevate this story, please share it with them and ask them to reach out. You can leave a comment here if you have a question about this story for me.

Otherwise please contact:

Patt G.Gunn: CTR for JUBILEE, (912) 547–5937

Tiffany Young: African American Origins, (404) 395–8380

Thank you!

Writer, reader, compulsive swimmer and apple fritter eater.

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