Following World War II, developers began to eye the Southeastern coast and dream of the possibilities. Before they could bring in the bulldozers, they had to get title to the land. Hundreds of thousands of acres of isolated, subtropical coast belonged to African Americans, who had lived there, passing the land down through their families for generations. Ownership was collective – heir property, it was called – and it passed without benefit of written will. The custom flew in the face of Anglo-Saxon common law, making property owners vulnerable and, ultimately, victims.
Developers sent their lawyers to meet with members of the family that owned a desirable tract. An offer would be made to one of them for his portion of the land. When that family member took the money and signed over his portion, the developers moved in for the kill. With title to a portion of the property, they could then go before a judge and argue that the property could not be divided “without prejudice to the tenants in common.” The judge would “remedy” the dispute with an order to sell the entire tract at a courthouse partition sale. The family that had owned the property for generations would have no recourse and likely no legal counsel or money to bid on their own land. “Heir property is a huge problem,” said Thomas Goldstein, a Charleston attorney who has fought for black property owners against developers. “Much of the development at Pawleys Island is legally stolen property.”
In the 1980s, partition sales were such a lucrative business in the Waccamaw Neck, Goldstein said, “Many companies would specifically request their attorneys to check county records to locate and obtain small interests of heir property for purposes of bringing partition sales.” Untold thousands of acres of Southern coast have been seized at pennies on the dollar. Those acres have been converted into billions of dollars in development.
Developers then poured salt into ancient wounds by calling their new golf courses, condominium and retirement communities “plantations.” The allure of that word and its connotations seems irresistible to white developers and their customers. Today, thousands of these pretentiously titled “plantations” dot the Carolinas and Georgia coast. Around the Grand Strand lie Carolina Waterway Plantation, Plantation Pointe, Plantation Resort, Plantation Apartments, Kingston Plantation, Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort, River Oaks Plantation Club, Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, Ocean Creek Plantation, Plantation Harbor, Conway Plantation, Deerfeld Plantation, Cimeron Plantation – and the list goes on.
Staffing all of these “plantations” requires many housekeepers, groundskeepers, dishwashers and other slightly-above-minimum-wage workers, often bussed in from miles away to labor on land their ancestors once owned.