Four men sentenced to 30 days in jail for contempt of court today by U.S. District Court Judge B. Avant Edenfield for refusing to leave a federal wildlife refuge they claim the government illegally seized in 1942.
Defense attorneys said they would appeal the judge's decision. But the defendants-Edgar Timmons Jr., Christopher McIntosh Jr. and Hercules Anderson, all of Eulonia, Ga., and the Rev. Ted Clark of Atlanta-may have to spent at least a weekend in jail if an appeals court judge is not available to sign an order.
The four were arrested Wednesday morning after they had refused to comply with the judge's order to leave the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
A protest of the Army's 1942 condemnation of a 2,687-acre patch of coastal island land inhabited by 300 to 400 black farmers and fisherman began last weekend. About 50 people moved onto the refuge with construction materials to begin rebuilding the former First African Baptist Church of Harris Neck.
The three Eulonia men arrested are sons of former property owners on the island, while Clark, a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, helped organize the protest.
Edenfield said that while "the court is mindful of the agony of condemnation proceedins . . . [neither] this court, [nor any] other court, can operate if it is powerless to enforce its orders."
The protesters and others who lived on the island when the Army took it for an air strip say they were given about 48 hours notice to move out of their homes. They also said they were paid average of $7 an acre while vacant land was available nearby that the Army could have used.
They also say the Army promised they could move back into their land after the war, a promise, they say, that has not been honoured.
"There was no reason for them to take our land and not nearby land, except that Harris Neck was 100 percent black and doing well," said Timmons, whose grandfather had a farm and oyster cannery on the island.
After having their community destroyed, his grandfather "and many others suffered from many diseases and some died," Timmons said, adding he believes that was direct result of the disruption in their lives.
Mary Moran, now 57, was eight months pregant with her fourth child when her family was given 48 hours to vacate their farm in July 1942. "They told us we must be out by Thursday by 12. They said if we were in there one minute after they would burn us out," she recalls.
One white woman was paid $27,764 for her 56 acres, while Timmons' grandfather was paid $2,725.50 for his 312-acre farm, defense attorney Clarence Martin said.
Rep. Ronald B. Ginn (D-Ga.) introduced legislation in 1976 to allow the original resident to rebuy their land for the purchase price, but the bill died in committee.