" No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.  ~ Dr. Martin Luther King jr.

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Harris Neck Justice Movement

First Movement: 

 

In the late 1970s a group of former Harris Neck community members and their descendants began organizing an effort to reclaim their homeland.  The group, calling itself People Organized for Equal Rights, brought a lawsuit against the Federal government.  A Federal District Court dismissed the case in 1980.  The judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired and that the people of Harris Neck had been justly compensated after their land was taken in 1942.  

 

Following this ruling, many from Harris Neck decided that they would simply move back onto the land.  Many people attempted to do just that.  However, in fairly short order Federal Marshalls were called in, arrests were made, and this effort was crushed.  Justice was also pursued at this time in Congress, but two different bills never even made it out of congressional committees.  This first movement ended, unsuccessfully in 1980.

 

Present Movement:  

 

Beginning in 2005 a second movement for justice was initiated.  All aspects of Harris Neck history, the 1942 taking, and the first movement were researched and analyzed.  Some lessons were learned, and just as importantly, times had changed.  For example, the court's statute of limitations argument was now moot, due in part to two settlements by the Federal government.  First, thousands of Japanese American families received some compensation in 1992 for the great losses they suffered during World War II, and second, more than 15,000 acres, taken during Woodrow Wilson's presidency, under circumstances and for motivations similar to those in Harris Neck, were returned to the Colorado River Indian Tribes in 2005.

 

As in the first movement, a few individuals started planning and strategizing, and the Harris Neck Land Trust (Trust) was formed in December 2005 as the legal entity at the center of the new Harris Neck Justice Movement.  A Board of Directors, comprised solely of people from Harris Neck and their descendants, was formed, as was an Advisory Board, made up of experts in fields that would be helpful to the Trust's strategy, needs and future work.

 

Almost all of the original families were found, not just in Georgia and Florida but elsewhere across the United States.  The few White families that owned land but had never lived on Harris Neck were also invited to join the movement.  Some of these families were represented at a few early meetings in 2006, but they stopped attending that year.  Each family chose a family representative to the Trust, and monthly meetings were begun in December 2005.  These meetings continue to the present day.

 

Since an equitable solution for the people of Harris Neck seemed to rest with the US Congress, the Trust focused its efforts for the first few years on gathering support on Capitol Hill.  Also, initially the Trust was seeking the return of title to all of the homeland - all 2,687 acres.  However, even though members of the Trust were invited to testify before Congress in 2011 and were subsequently invited to introduce legislation, it eventually became clear that there was not going to be enough support in Congress to pass a bill that would return Harris Neck to its rightful owners.

 

In 2011, after a good amount of research, the Trust approached the large and prestigious law firm, Holland & Knight.  In March of 2012, this firm agreed to represent the Trust pro bono in its continuing efforts to reclaim some, if not all, of the Harris Neck homeland.  Over the next few years, the Trust went from seeking title to all of Harris Neck to considering several other options, including a lease of all of the land, a lease of part of the land and a land transfer.  

 

In 2017 members of the Trust met with a Special Advisor to President Donald Trump and a Special Advisor to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.  In this meeting, the government introduced the concept/practice of a Cooperative Agreement, saying these were done in the National Wildlife Refuge System and that we might consider going this route.

 

After much discussion with the attorneys and research into such agreements, the Trust submitted a draft Cooperative Agreement to the Department of Interior in late 2018.  Since then there have been a few meetings to discuss the details, scope and other terms of such an agreement.  The Trust then met with US Representative Buddy Carter (GA - District 1), who, after reviewing the Trust's draft Cooperative Agreement expressed interest in helping facilitate the work on this path toward an equitable resolution.  Mr. Carter hosted two meetings in Savannah with the Trust, its attorneys and other Harris Neck "stakeholders".

 

Discussions of this proposed agreement, which asks for a long-term renewable lease to create a Living Museum and some supporting elements on a small fraction of the eastern most portion of Harris Neck, thousands of feet from the nesting and fishing ponds of the Wood Stork and other migratory birds, continue.