Josephine Wright and her late husband, Samuel Wright Sr., moved from New York to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, nearly 30 years ago to seek peace and relaxation on a family-owned property.
The 1.8-acre parcel of land had been in her husband’s family since the Civil War and it was there that they carried on family traditions, hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, planted trees and bushes and built a porch, Wright said.
Wright, who is 93, acquired the deed to the land in 2012 after her husband died in 1998, her granddaughter, Tracey Love Graves, said.
Now, Wright’s beloved land is at the center of a legal battle with a property developer looking to build a residential development next door. According to The Post and Courier, Georgia-based Bailey Point Investment, LLC is planning to construct 147 homes.
Graves said Bailey Point had previously showed up at her grandmother’s house and offered $30,000 for Wright’s land, which she declined.
The developer later filed a lawsuit in February 2023 against Wright claiming that her satellite dish, shed, and screened-in porch were encroaching on the developer’s land and delaying the construction of new homes.
The lawsuit asked for the removal of the structures and sought “just and adequate compensation for its loss of the use and enjoyment” of their property, and expenses related to delays in development.
Wright and Graves said they have since removed the shed and satellite dish and were preparing to downsize the screened porch when Wright decided to file a counterclaim.
“My porch is not on their property,” Wright told CNN.
Wright’s counterclaim, filed April 25 and amended in June, accused Bailey Point of a “constant barrage of tactics of intimidation, harassment, trespass, to include this litigation in an effort to force her to sell her property.”
The counterclaim also accused the developer of “trashing her property, going onto her property cutting brush and shrubs, littering, causing dirt and debris to cover her automobile, house and contents.” The claim said Wright had been “deprived of the peaceful enjoyment of her property.”
Bailey Point filed an answer to the counterclaim on May 24 denying all those allegations. The developer also denied trying to acquire Wright’s land and being told it wasn’t for sale.
The legal battle is drawing renewed attention to the historic expropriation of Black-owned land. Wright told CNN she is concerned the developer is using well-known pressure tactics to get her to give in and sell her land.
Attorneys for Bailey Point have not returned CNN’s request for comment.
“I want to be left alone,” Wright said. “I want to live on my property like I have always in peace and quiet.”
They ‘messed with the wrong one’
Bakari Sellers, a civil rights attorney and CNN political commentator who is advocating for Wright, said land battles with developers have historically been an issue for the Gullah Geechee people – descendants of Africans who were enslaved along the lower Atlantic coast and forced to work on rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations. Wright’s late husband was Gullah Geechee.
“Their land is so valuable,” Sellers said. “They (developers) have been doing this for years. This is not new.”
Wright says she hopes that her fight will inspire other Black landowners in Hilton Head Island to defend their property.
“They have never been able to fight back,” Wright said. “But once they see somebody doing it, they will know that they have the right to do what I did.”
Wright’s land fight has garnered the attention of celebrities, including NBA star Kyrie Irving who donated $40,000 to a GoFundMe created to raise money for her legal fees. Filmmaker Tyler Perry also shared Wright’s story on Instagram saying, “Please tell where to show up and what you need to help you fight.”