By Barney Blakeney
For the East Coper Civic Club, receiving the deed for a disputed parcel of land in the midst of the Remley’s Point/Scanlonville community was a hard fought success in a lot of ways.
The Scanlonville community was established in 1868 after freedman Robert Scanlon bought the 614-acre Remley Plantation on the Cooper River. He divided the land and sold lots to other freedmen. Over the next 100 years Scanlonville became home to the first local Black beach where renowned entertainers such as Duke Ellington and James Brown performed at White’s Paradise and businesses such as a hotel, a pavilion and playground were located until the mid-1970s. Today, Blacks own less than half the Black landowners’ original acreage. The 100 or so families which have lived in the community over several generations proudly hold on to what’s left. Regaining ownership of approximately half-acre parcel signifies their unified strength and determination, said civic club President Ed Lee.
Like many waterfront communities, Scanlonville is under siege by land developers insensitive to the history and cultural significance of the residents who live in them. Since its establishment, Scanlonville residents have had to fight off encroachers. The thirst for waterfront property over the past 20 years exacerbated that encroachment.
In 1999 the three-acre Remley Point Cemetery used by Black residents from 1867 -1989 was purchased by a couple who planned to use the property to build a home. In 2001, they filed to relocate the graves so that they could build their home. They withdrew the request when Scanlonville residents sued to block the desecration. In 2005 a judge ruled that the historical cemetery could not be developed. That was the first victory, Lee said. The August 10 transfer of land represented a second success, he said.
Since the Jim Crow era, Blacks residents of Scanlonville have lost their land through various deals, schemes and outright thievery, Lee said. The modern system of property taxation makes it difficult for some owners to keep their property. That was the scenario which contributed to the loss of the approximately half-acre disputed parcel, said African American Settlement Community Historic Commission Inc. board president John Wright.
Eventually, the Town of Mount Pleasant acquired the land. When the town encountered protests to its intent to use the property for a municipal purpose, it took the easy way out and granted the property to the East Cooper Land Trust, which sought to use it as a park. That was acceptable to Scanlonville residents, except the land trust wanted to name the park in honor of someone they’d never heard of. Residents felt it should be named to honor Scanlon. A year-long tug of war ended last week when the land trust granted the land to the civic club. Lee said they will use the land for a park honoring the esteemed founders of their community.
“We won against a well-financed non-profit. We know we can’t win against racism, but we can position ourselves to maintain our assets. We’ve just got to wake up these kids so they’ll continue to own it 75 years from now,” Lee said.