Georgia group opposes bill that allows sale of heritage site

A coalition of slave descendants in Georgia have started a petition to fight a state bill that would allow the sale of heritage sites, including a former slave plantation house, to private entities.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly in the Georgia House, and is expected to be taken up by the state senate when they reconvene Friday, The Brunswick News reported.

But a petition organized by a group known as The Coalition to Save Butler Island Plantation House calls for people to oppose it, saying its passage would make way for the former rice plantation in Darien, Georgia, — now managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources — to be converted into a beer distillery.

Josh Hildebrandt, head of governmental affairs for the department, told the newspaper he understands the concerns of residents, but added existing protections for heritage sites would not be lost with the new bill and any private owners for heritage sites would have to preserve their structure.

Butler Island Plantation is located about 62 miles (100 kilometers) south of Savannah, where the plantation’s owner participated in the largest sale of slaves in U.S. history in the late 1850s. More than 430 slaves were sold, and the breakup of families that occurred as a result continues to be remembered as “The Weeping Time.”

“It’s the history that’s deeply embedded in America’s history,” Former Darien City Councilman Griffin Lotson told WTOC-TV.

The sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Darlene Taylor, told the Brunswick News the bill would provide a “way to preserve” heritage sites with “no cost to the state.”

The city of Darien would have a say in the outcome of any sale since it has a 50-year agreement with the natural resources department and insures the property, City Manager Richard E. Braun told the newspaper. The process to transfer state assets to a private developer would also take up to a year to 18 months, Hildebrandt said.