How 99 Black Americans Gained—Then Lost—Land on an Idyllic Georgia Island

Aerial view of Skidaway Island, Georgia.Carol Highsmith/Library of Congress

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On Skidaway Island, off the coast of Georgia, “not one blade of grass feels out of place.” Giant oak trees provide shade from the heat. Nature surrounds you, but as Center for Public Integrity reporter Alexia Fernández Campbell describes, it “seems to have been tamed to become amenities” for The Landings, a gated community that takes up half of the island.

The average price of a home in The Landings was more than $800,000 in 2022. The community boasts a spa, four clubhouses, five swimming pools, and six golf courses. Although Black people are the majority in nearby Savannah, on Skidaway Island 93 percent of the population is white.

It’s hard to tell now, but this wealthy white enclave used to be home to a Black utopia. In 1865, a promise was made to newly freed people, the promise of “40 acres and a mule.” For thousands, that was made real. The Center for Public Integrity found that at least 99 men and women were issued federal documents entitling them to land on the island. But as the latest episode of Reveal details, it was later all taken back from them as white Southerners sought pardons from President Andrew Johnson, who granted many of them and returned plantations back to the enslavers.

“You could feel chills to know that they had it and then they just pulled the rug from under them, so to speak,” said Linda Brown, one of the few Black residents at The Landings.

The episode is part of a groundbreaking project by Reveal, Mother Jones, and the Center for Public Integrity called “40 Acres and a Lie.” In part one of the project’s three-part audio series, we learned the history of the government program that gave land to formerly enslaved people, and later took it a way.

In part two of the series, Fernández Campbell and Reveal producer Nadia Hamdan take us to The Landings to explore what has become of the land, understand it’s value, and who now owns what was once promised to Black families.