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Family Settles in Battle for Ancestral Land in South Carolina

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Family Settles in Battle for Ancestral Land in South Carolina

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The family of a woman who fought a developer to keep their ancestral land in Hilton Head, S.C., has reached a settlement in the legal battle that recognized her ownership, a family lawyer said this week.

Josephine Wright, who died in January at 94, had been leading the fight to retain rights to the land that had been in her husband’s family since the Civil War. Her quest had drawn support from celebrities, including Snoop Dogg and Kyrie Irving.

The company that owns the development neighboring her property, Bailey Point Investment, had sued Ms. Wright in February 2023, claiming encroachment. The company said that her satellite dish, shed and screened porch trespassed on its land, which had “significantly delayed and hindered” development.

The two parties had agreed on the terms of a settlement before Ms. Wright died in January, but the documents were not signed, so they had to wait until it was determined who would be authorized to sign on behalf of her estate, Roberts Vaux, the family’s lawyer said in an email.

Mr. Vaux declined to provide details of the settlement, but said that the land that Ms. Wright claimed is “confirmed as hers.”

A lawyer representing Bailey Point Investment did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A family spokeswoman, Altimese Nichole, told South Carolina Public Radio that the settlement requires that Bailey Point Investment stop contacting the family about acquiring the land and that it fix a roof on the property, put up a privacy fence and provide landscaping.

Ms. Wright had previously told The New York Times that her husband inherited the 1.8-acre property from his parents, and that it was put in her name after he died in 1998.

The property has been a gathering spot for Ms. Wright’s seven children, 40 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great-grandchildren, she had said.

Ms. Wright’s predicament, however, wasn’t all that unique among residents of Hilton Head, S.C., an island 100 miles from Charleston, S.C.

Land in the area was owned by many Black families who had settled there long before developers arrived in the 1950s and made it a tourist destination, Mel Campbell, 75, a community elder previously told the Times. Many of the Black families were descendants of West and Central Africans who were enslaved and worked on rice, indigo and cotton plantations.

Many families were offered large checks from developers for their land, Ms Wright said. She said that she had refused when she was offered $39,000 for the land years ago.

Ms. Wright told The Times in August that the land’s value was not only monetary. “It’s a family thing,” she said then, “and we want to keep it that way forever.”

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