Sea Island And St Simons Island May Suffer from G-8 Presence, but Sea Island Company Will Not
"We need to pump life in here, because it's dead here. Dead like our water. Our minds are being killed by the corporations as are our bodies."
Harry Lyde, resident of St. Simons island.
Second in a continuing series.
By Jamie “Bork” Loughner
May 17, 2004
Sea Island, Georgia -- Sea Island is the actual physical site of the G-8 summit this year though adjacent St. Simons Island will take at least some of the overflow. The leaders from the wealthiest nations, predominantly white, will come together in June at this southern Georgia resort to further their economic domination of the rest of world. It is fitting that the summit be held in such private and exclusive venue as Sea Island. The summit will be held on the island due to a number of factors including the fact that the Bush family has strong interests in the private resort island. George Bush, Sr. honeymooned here and has maintained long time ties to the Jones family, which owns the Sea Island Company.
Sea Island is a small private, five-mile-long resort island just off the Georgia coast. It is entirely owned or administered by the Sea Island Company. According to its press packet, the company holds more then 600 multimillion-dollar homes (one third open to rental), an expensive 209-room resort, and one of the three world-class golf courses located on the island. Chairman and CEO Bill Jones III run Sea Island Company as part of what has been a family-owned and run company since Jones’ cousin--Hudson Motor Company auto magnate Howard Coffin--bought it in the 1920s. It is the largest private employer in Glynn County, Georgia, with over 1800 employees--most of whom live on the mainland. The company holds undue influence in the Glynn County community, which finds itself subject to the political pull of the company’s money--revenues from its 2002-2003 season were reported to be $185 million--and paternalistic “company store” attitudes and economics.
Because of its involvement in bringing the G-8 and its burdens on Glynn County, the Sea Island Company has taken the extraordinary measure of offering company land on the mainland and money for venues to the protest organizers. But this money, if accepted, would be a pittance compared to the money and advertising that the G-8 is expected to bring to the company. The Sea Island company is set to reap the vast majority of the eventual economic benefits that the Summit’s presence is expected to bring to the states economy--300 million to 500 million dollars—most of this in the form of “free advertising” for the resorts. The Sea Island Company’s image as a family-owned , community-promoting company, is why the land and money offers were made. The land offered to protesters is across from the locally infamous Brunswick Hercules Chemical plant, a major polluter in the community. It is also extremely close to the causeway entrance leading to St. Simons island, which eventually leads to Sea Island. This same land, if accepted, looks to be the likely site for the G-8 protests wellness center and possibly camping. In addition to its other involvement with the protests, the Sea Island Company has been present as an unexplained “third” party in protest-related hearings. A local Gullah family, the Lyde family, instigated efforts to protect first amendment rights by local activists who are trying to secure public protest venues.
The Sea Island Company appears to be more accountable to the community than most corporations through its donations and environmental programs, but the company is often resented for its high-handed actions around the community. The company’s heavy-handed push to host the G-8 is only the latest example. Its purchase and privatization of a neighboring St Simons Island golf course--turning it into the highly exclusive resort destination, The Lodge--resulted in most St Simons island residents being unable to access a treasured, previously public resource. The Lodge is one of two exclusive Sea Island golf courses that are actually located on St. Simons Island. Sea Island Company also has purchased 3700 acres of limited forested land on St. Simons with the stated intention of developing hundreds of low-density, exclusive home sites.
Prior to the time of the Sea Islands purchase by Coffin, as with many of the South Georgia islands, the Sea Island land had been at one time worked, then owned, by plantation slaves and their descendants known collectively as the Gullah. For a short time they had been given ownership of the land that they had farmed by General Sherman, but soon after the end of the Civil War that ownership was mostly rescinded. There is still a small, relatively poor, contingent of Gullah who reside on what may be the only dirt road left on St. Simons Island. Those who are left are justly proud of their Gullah ancestry and are quick to correct local legends about them that are clearly grounded in racist romanticism of the plantation days.
When Sea Island was bought by what became Sea Island Company, the racial make-up of the island’s residents dramatically changed. What had been reported as a predominantly black, post-plantation community, became a predominantly white one. When touring Sea Island currently, it is hard to escape noticing that the only people of color visible are in food servers or caddy uniforms. They are shipped onto the island by company bus from Brunswick. Guests and residents of Sea Island, seen or interviewed by this reporter, were universally white.
Sea Island Company employees (and their publicity department) evaded this reporter’s questions when I asked them how many current residents were people of color. In fact, when examining many of Sea Island Company brochures, which included many publicity shots of smiling resident and guest families, the only persons of color readily visible were an un-captioned employee, a smiling doorman and a single child.
When I interviewed local business owners on St Simons about their hopes and fears regarding the economic impact of the G-8 Summit, it became clear that all of the small local businesses are white owned. The single business owner of color whom I interviewed on St. Simons owned a small landscaping business that turned out to be located in Brunswick.
As I spoke to residents of Sea Island, I found that despite their wealth and residence in one of the most exclusive resorts in the world; they were not universally happy with the decision to host the G-8. Many felt that the communities should have been consulted in such a momentous decision. As was true of St. Simons residents, many were intending to be gone during summit week because of the overwhelming presence of security. One resident I spoke with had passed the security clearances needed to become of the volunteers for the G-8 conference.
Surprisingly, the inconveniences of high level security and the closure or checkpoint control of their only access road was not the sole concern expressed by mostly wealthy residents of the two islands. Two out of five Sea Island residents and 17 out of the 22 St Simons residents who agreed to talk to me, mentioned at least one concern familiar to activists: that decisions made at the G-8 would neglect global peace, environmental, and health concerns. The residents also felt that the decisions would be too highly influenced by corporations. Not all supported Bush and Blair’s Iraq war. Many were outspoken against the current war.
There was also almost universal concern regarding the loss of privacy, security measure implementation, and freedom of movement for residents. It seemed as if the phrases “We’re batting down the hatches” and “We’re leaving for a week [or two]” were lines memorized by the residents. As for St Simons residents, many of them expressed concern that small businesses on St Simons Island, many of whom operate on small margins, would suffer unduly without seeing any later economic gain from the publicity--maybe even going bankrupt before any additional economic boost could set in.
Employees of the Sea Island Company and St Simons businesses echoed this concern almost universally. They said that those who would be forced to give up work for the one to two weeks of high security, live mostly paycheck to paycheck and just couldn’t afford to go without one or two. Eviction is a distinct possible for some residents. Caddies at the Sea Island resorts--often Latinos who lived in Brunswick--expressed similar concerns, as did restaurant employees, groundskeepers, and other service workers on St Simons Island. Most of these workers live in Brunswick and already know that they will not be allowed to work for more than one week.
The surprising concern of extremely wealthy residents of Sea Island is related to the fact that even Sea Island feels the environmental impact of ocean water pollution by runoffs and air pollution of the four federal Superfund toxic waste sites. Three out of four of these sites are in Brunswick. One of these sites generates toxic runoff between Brunswick and St Simons Island--far too close to Sea Island’s habitats for comfort. The Hercules Chemical plant--maker of basic chemicals ranging from those used in weapons and ammunition manufacture to those that keep color distributed evenly in soda--is one of the chief polluters in the area which effects water and air quality even on the islands.
Residents and guests of Sea Island are strongly involved in conservation, observation and ecological stewardship efforts for many marsh and ocean creatures, and are particularly concerned with their famous beach’s threatened loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings. These concerns might have been slightly mollified by recent assurances by G-8 security planners that great care will be taken during beach patrols of Sea Island. The concerns remain far from relieved. The ecological-minded residents of both Sea Island and St Simons, who were vocal in their support of Bush and the G-8 summit, were surprised when confronted about President Bush’s recent approval of extensive gas well drilling in a Texas national park that is the main nesting beach for the most endangered sea turtle in the world.
Those Sea Island and St Simons island residents who expressed concerns with either the G-8 Summit or Bush/ Blair war policies will be unable to express their concerns via protests in their own communities. No protests will be allowed on Sea Island and so far all requests for protest permits have been refused on St Simons, though the latter may change or be changed by innovative protesters. However, those who wish to go through check points and put up with traffic delays will be able to go to St. Simons during the summit; even those just needing to go to the St Simons beach for a cool breeze and a much needed swim. Currently, roads are open to both St Simons and Sea Island and this situation is expected to stay the same until much closer to the summit. Early bird out-of-town activists may enjoy the beauty of both these island communities.
Previously: Georgia G-8 Protests Look to Be Big
- Atlanta Indymedia
- Tallahassee-RedHills Indymedia
- Direct Action Network (Savannah anarchists)
- Fair World Fair
- Glynn Environmental Coalition
- March for Reparations
- Golden Isles Weekend Online