Sapelo Island resident makes a traditional Gullah basket.

Sapelo Island resident makes a traditional Gullah basket. / Georgia Public Broadcasting

A federal judge said the state of Georgia is not immune from a lawsuit that claims the state discriminated against a community of slave descendants on Sapelo Island.

The suit was filed last December by several members of one of the last Gullah Geechee communities, Hogg Hummock.

It claimed the state and McIntosh County employed harsh tax hikes and denied basic services, which reduced the community's population.

The defendants argued the 11th Amendment protects the state from federal lawsuits, and asked that the claims be dismissed. On June 17, U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood disagreed.

Hogg Hummock is home to about 50 black residents. It can only be reached by limited ferry service, and has no trash pickup, schools, police or fire departments. 

The plaintiff's are seeking damages under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A court order reads, “Plaintiffs assert, in part, that the State has allocated the federal financial assistance in a discriminatory manner by giving it to the County, which used the funds to benefit White residents on the mainland.”

The state also faces damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiff's say the ferry, which is the only way on to the island, is not readily accessible to community members with physical disabilities.

Judge Wood dismissed all claims against the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority.

Claims are still pending against McIntosh County, Governor Nathan Deal and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams.