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THE REAL TRUTH BEHIND "40 ACRES AND A MULE" (4599 hits)

By: Henry Louis Gates Jr.|Posted: January 7, 2013 at 12:24 AM

(The Root) -- Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 13: What happened to the "40 acres and a mule" that former slaves were promised?

We've all heard the story of the "40 acres and a mule" promise to former slaves. It's a staple of black history lessons, and it's the name of Spike Lee's film company. The promise was the first systematic attempt to provide a form of reparations to newly freed slaves, and it was astonishingly radical for its time, proto-socialist in its implications. In fact, such a policy would be radical in any country today: the federal government's massive confiscation of private property -- some 400,000 acres -- formerly owned by Confederate land owners, and its methodical redistribution to former black slaves. What most of us haven't heard is that the idea really was generated by black leaders themselves.

It is difficult to stress adequately how revolutionary this idea was: As the historian Eric Foner puts it in his book, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, "Here in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, the prospect beckoned of a transformation of Southern society more radical even than the end of slavery." Try to imagine how profoundly different the history of race relations in the United States would have been had this policy been implemented and enforced; had the former slaves actually had access to the ownership of land, of property; if they had had a chance to be self-sufficient economically, to build, accrue and pass on wealth. After all, one of the principal promises of America was the possibility of average people being able to own land, and all that such ownership entailed. As we know all too well, this promise was not to be realized for the overwhelming majority of the nation's former slaves, who numbered about 3.9 million.

What Exactly Was Promised?





We have been taught in school that the source of the policy of "40 acres and a mule" was Union General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order No. 15, issued on Jan. 16, 1865. (That account is half-right: Sherman prescribed the 40 acres in that Order, but not the mule. The mule would come later.) But what many accounts leave out is that this idea for massive land redistribution actually was the result of a discussion that Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton held four days before Sherman issued the Order, with 20 leaders of the black community in Savannah, Ga., where Sherman was headquartered following his famous March to the Sea. The meeting was unprecedented in American history.

Today, we commonly use the phrase "40 acres and a mule," but few of us have read the Order itself. Three of its parts are relevant here. Section one bears repeating in full: "The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes [sic] now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States."

Section two specifies that these new communities, moreover, would be governed entirely by black people themselves: " … on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves … By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro [sic] is free and must be dealt with as such."

Finally, section three specifies the allocation of land: " … each family shall have a plot of not more than (40) acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel, with not more than 800 feet water front, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection, until such time as they can protect themselves, or until Congress shall regulate their title."

With this Order, 400,000 acres of land -- "a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John's River in Florida, including Georgia's Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast," as Barton Myers reports -- would be redistributed to the newly freed slaves. The extent of this Order and its larger implications are mind-boggling, actually.

Who Came Up With the Idea?

Here's how this radical proposal -- which must have completely blown the minds of the rebel Confederates -- actually came about. The abolitionists Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens and other Radical Republicans had been actively advocating land redistribution "to break the back of Southern slaveholders' power," as Myers observed. But Sherman's plan only took shape after the meeting that he and Stanton held with those black ministers, at 8:00 p.m., Jan. 12, on the second floor of Charles Green's mansion on Savannah's Macon Street. In its broadest strokes, "40 acres and a mule" was their idea.

Stanton, aware of the great historical significance of the meeting, presented Henry Ward Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous brother) a verbatim transcript of the discussion, which Beecher read to his congregation at New York's Plymouth Church and which the New York Daily Tribune printed in full in its Feb. 13, 1865, edition. Stanton told Beecher that "for the first time in the history of this nation, the representatives of the government had gone to these poor debased people to ask them what they wanted for themselves." Stanton had suggested to Sherman that they gather "the leaders of the local Negro community" and ask them something no one else had apparently thought to ask: "What do you want for your own people" following the war? And what they wanted astonishes us even today.

Who were these 20 thoughtful leaders who exhibited such foresight? They were all ministers, mostly Baptist and Methodist. Most curious of all to me is that 11 of the 20 had been born free in slave states, of which 10 had lived as free men in the Confederacy during the course of the Civil War. (The other one, a man named James Lynch, was born free in Maryland, a slave state, and had only moved to the South two years before.) The other nine ministers had been slaves in the South who became "contraband," and hence free, only because of the Emancipation Proclamation, when Union forces liberated them.

Their chosen leader and spokesman was a Baptist minister named Garrison Frazier, aged 67, who had been born in Granville, N.C., and was a slave until 1857, "when he purchased freedom for himself and wife for $1000 in gold and silver," as the New York Daily Tribune reported. Rev. Frazier had been "in the ministry for thirty-five years," and it was he who bore the responsibility of answering the 12 questions that Sherman and Stanton put to the group. The stakes for the future of the Negro people were high.

And Frazier and his brothers did not disappoint. What did they tell Sherman and Stanton that the Negro most wanted? Land! "The way we can best take care of ourselves," Rev. Frazier began his answer to the crucial third question, "is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor … and we can soon maintain ourselves and have something to spare … We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own." And when asked next where the freed slaves "would rather live -- whether scattered among the whites or in colonies by themselves," without missing a beat, Brother Frazier (as the transcript calls him) replied that "I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us in the South that will take years to get over … " When polled individually around the table, all but one -- James Lynch, 26, the man who had moved south from Baltimore -- said that they agreed with Frazier. Four days later, Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15, after President Lincoln approved it.

What Became of the Land That Was Promised?

The response to the Order was immediate. When the transcript of the meeting was reprinted in the black publication Christian Recorder, an editorial note intoned that "From this it will be seen that the colored people down South are not so dumb as many suppose them to be," reflecting North-South, slave-free black class tensions that continued well into the modern civil rights movement. The effect throughout the South was electric: As Eric Foner explains, "the freedmen hastened to take advantage of the Order." Baptist minister Ulysses L. Houston, one of the group that had met with Sherman, led 1,000 blacks to Skidaway Island, Ga., where they established a self-governing community with Houston as the "black governor." And by June, "40,000 freedmen had been settled on 400,000 acres of 'Sherman Land.' " By the way, Sherman later ordered that the army could lend the new settlers mules; hence the phrase, "40 acres and a mule."





And what happened to this astonishingly visionary program, which would have fundamentally altered the course of American race relations? Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor and a sympathizer with the South, overturned the Order in the fall of 1865, and, as Barton Myers sadly concludes, "returned the land along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts to the planters who had originally owned it" -- to the very people who had declared war on the United States of America.

As always, you can find more "Amazing Facts About the Negro" on The Root, and check back each week as we count to 100.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.
Posted By: Siebra Muhammad
Tuesday, January 8th 2013 at 2:34PM
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YES!! I'm still waiting for my great-great-great- grandfathers 40 acres and 3 mules (the value has gone up)....
LOL...

great blog...
Wednesday, January 9th 2013 at 2:26PM
Cynthia Merrill Artis
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was established by Congress on March 4, 1865, in an attempt to aid the more than 4 million former slaves who lived in the South at the end of the Civil War. The Freedman's Bureau was initially intended to last for only one year, and it was hobbled by allegations of corruption as well as a lack of funds and manpower.

However, it was still effective in helping the uneducated and poverty-stricken African Americans who suddenly found themselves without homes, jobs, or money. It ceased operation at the end of 1868.

The bureau's primary goal was to distribute food, clothing, fuel, and medical care to former slaves, as well as oversee their well-being and treatment. General Oliver O. Howard, a well-respected Civil War veteran, was chosen to head the bureau's 900 agents.

One of the agency's most difficult tasks was creating a judicial system that was fair to both blacks and whites. Not surprisingly, most Southerners weren't particularly eager to treat freed slaves fairly, so the bureau first established its own judicial authority with local agents, setting up temporary three-man courts to hear disputes.
Wednesday, January 9th 2013 at 3:18PM
DAVID JOHNSON
What Became of the Land That Was Promised? pt 2 from my records

The Freedman's Bureau also worked diligently to bring former slaves into a free labor economy. Plantations were still integral to the Southern economy, and the agency strove to bring African Americans into that work force with fair wages and the opportunity for advancement.

One way in which that was accomplished was through the distribution of land that had been confiscated or abandoned during the war. The initial pledge was “40 acres and a mule” to every freed slave, but only about 2,000 freedmen in South Carolina and 1,500 freedmen in Georgia actually received the land as promised.

Another important concern was health care. The bureau tried to strengthen existing health care facilities and establish a series of health clinics. During its operation, the bureau helped nearly 500,000 freed slaves receive medical attention.

However, things were far from perfect in the New South. The region's economy continued to be dominated by agriculture, despite attempts to industrialize — a situation that would continue into the twentieth century — and many Southerners did all they could to keep African Americans from assuming their constitutionally guaranteed place in society. For example, many Southern states made it extremely difficult for blacks to vote by enacting deliberately prohibitive laws such as the poll tax. Most blacks also received far lower wages than white workers, which prevented them from buying land and otherwise becoming financially independent.

Southern African Americans may not have been slaves any longer, but they were far from free. It wasn't until the civil rights movement of the 1960s that many of their invisible shackles were finally removed





Wednesday, January 9th 2013 at 3:18PM
DAVID JOHNSON
Two Versions as in the White Mans Written version in our history books.... or the black versions told by our ancestors?


Wednesday, January 9th 2013 at 4:12PM
Cynthia Merrill Artis
@ MY BEAUTIFUL ALMOST PERFECT DAUGHTER...NOW THIS IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF MY TRYING TO GET US INTERESTED IN OUR OWN BIAHISTORY...BUT, HOW IN TEH HELL CAN TIS BE DONE UNTIL WE UNDERSTAND..THINGS LIKE MY NOT BEING ABLE TO GET US INTERESTED IN OW WE ACTUALLY CAME TO AMERICA NOT AS SLAVES BUT AS A PEOPLE WHO WERE EXPEERTIN GROWNING RICE...BUT WE ARE SO STUCK ON WE CAME HER TO BE SLAVES WORKING IN COTTON MANY, MANY YEARS LATER...SIEBRA DO YOU EVEN KNOW ABOUT MY POST ON "UNCLE BEN RICE" HOW WE WERE BROUGHT HERE AND PAID TO TURN THE SWAMPS INTO RICE GROWING FIELDS????

AND YES MY ***** IS NOT UP NOW ONLY BECAUSE WE HAVE JUST LEARNED ABOUT WHY REV. DR. JOSEPH LOWERY GAVE THE PRAYER WHEN OUR PRESIDENT WAS SWORN IN ALONG WITH OUR PRESIDENT'S VISIT TO AFRICA TO THE VERY PLACE WE WERE KEPT TO BE PUT ON SLAVE SHIPS IS ALL TIED INTO TIS AS I POSTED WHEN HE WAS SWORN INTOOFICE WHEN I SAID REV. WRIGHT WAS CHILDS PLAY AND THEY WOULD NEVER TRY TO DO THIS TO DR. LOWERY...HE IS HE PART OF THE THINK TANK WHO KNOWS EXACTLY WHY AND HOW MUCH WE MUST BE PAID IN REEPRATIONS...AS WE LEARN OUR PAST WE WILL BE BETTER TO UNDER STAND WHAT OUR PRESIDENT IS REALLY DOING...BUT WE STILL DON'TKNOW THE TRUTH OF WHAT SISTA ROSA WAS DOING AND IT WOWRKS I NOUR FAVOR AS IT HELPS US IN UNTOLD WAYS...

I LAUGH AT HOW BY THE TIME OUR PRESIDENT LEAVES WE WILL KNOW THEPOWERS OF AN ANGRY BLACKMAN...BECAUSE BY THE TIMEHELEAVES THE WHITE HOUSE THERE WILL BE NO MORE REPUBLICAN PARTY RUNNING AROUND CAMIMING THEY ARE HTA PARTY OF CHRISTIAN FAMILY VALUES AND AMERICA IS A CHRISTIAN NATION...THE MUST NOW RUN AWAY FORM THIS ALREADY!!!!

MY CHIOD THIS IS WHAT IS MEANT BY BLACK POWER ON THEREAL...NOW NEXT STEP LOOK UP THE HISTORY OF DR. LOWERY...THEY EVEN TRIED TO SAY HE DID NOTHAVE A BA SO HE COULDNOT HAVE GOTTEN A MSSTER TO BE ABLE TO BE CALLED A DR OF BLACK PHILOSOPHY...BET YOU DON'TKNOW THIS IS WHAT ANGELA IS CLASSIFIED AS...A BLACK PHILOSOPHER AS THEREST OF THE REQUIRMENTS FOR THE BLACK THINK TANK...DON'T KNOW ABUT THEM EITHER...YOU JUST MET ONE HIS NAME IS ON THEIS ARTICLE...BUT I REPAET I BET WE KNOW ALL ABUT HIM BEING USED AS A WEAPON AGAINST OUR PRESIDENT AS BEING UNQUALIFIED TO BE IN THE WHITE HOUSE...

PLEAS KEEP THESE COMING AS IT EATS THE GOVERNOR OF TEXAA ND FL AND GA ECT. UP. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL (SMILE)
Thursday, April 10th 2014 at 6:47PM
@BUSY BEE,IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MOER ABOUT OUR GETTING OUR 40 ACERAS AND A MULE...NATIONAL NAACP SENDS A MAGIZINE TO IS MEMBERS...I AM NOT SURE WHAT YEAR IT WAS THYE PRINTED THE LATEST INFO ON GETTING IT...BUT I AM SURE THAT SOME ONE WITH COMPUTER ESPERTEES CN GO AND FINE THE ARTICES THER TELLING HOW TIS IS TO BE DONE...I THOUGHT ABOUT THE 40 ACREAS WHEN SIEBRA PRINTED THE BLOG ABOUT THEOLDEST BLACK PERSON BECAUSE IT HAS SOMETING TO DO WITH THIS ARTICLE I SPEAK OF...

AND, ONCE AGAIN I MUST STRESS WE HAVE TWO DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF OUR HISTORY, I STICK WITH OUR VERSION AND IT TELLS US HOW WE WILL BE ABLE TO GET IT AND NOT HOW THEGOVERNMENT SETS RULES FOR US...MUST LIKE TIS ARTICLE SAYS WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT IN THE FIRST PLACE BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT SEEN IT...SME GOES WITH AFFIRMATIVE-ACTION MOST PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS REALLY ALL ABOUT...THEY ONLY KNOW THE VERSION ON HOW IT WAS WRITTEN FOR THE WHITE WOMAN AND NOT US WHO ORIGINATED THE TREADY CALLED AFFIRMATIVE-ACTION AS WELL AS THE 40 ACREAS, BECAUSE IT IS SOMETING WE D-I-D!!!!...

AND, YES TIS IS WHY I LOOS IT MANY TIMES WHEN WE GIVE THE VERSIONS ABOUT US AHT DON'T HAVE A DAMNED THING TO DO WITH US SINCE WE DO POSITIVE,LONG TERM PLANING NOT THENEGATIVES THAT HAVE NOT A DAMN THING OR PURPOSE BUT TO COUNTER WHAT IS IT WE REALLY DO/ ARE DOING!!!

SIEBRA LOVED THIS POSTING AS HOPEFULLY THE PART ABOUT "THE O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L IS MAJOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOV AY A-L-L (SMILE)
Thursday, April 10th 2014 at 6:47PM
BUT AND I WILL REPEAT...IF WE CANNOT GET PASS THE POINT OF BELIEVEING WE CAME HERE AS SLAVES TO PICK COTTON AND NOT AS FREEMEN TO TEACH HOW TO PLANT RICE THEN DON'T EVEN BOTHEER TO EVEN LEARN ABOUT THE 40 ACREAS AND A MULE, BECAUSE IT WILL BE A WASTE OF TIME AND EFFORTS ,SINCE IT IS THE FOUNDATION OF THIS 'TREATY' IN TEH FIRST PLACE. (NUP/ SMILE)
Thursday, April 10th 2014 at 6:47PM
@DOC...I WILL REPEAT...WE GET OUR AFRICAN-CENTERED VERSION OF OUR BIAHISTORY FROM OUR ANSCESTORS THANKS INFULL FOR TAHT 'VERSION' OF THE STUDEY OF THE SOCILA STUDY PROFESSOR PAID BY PRES. LBJ TO DO A REPORT SO HE UNDER THE NAME OF OUR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT COULD PROVE OUR BLACK SINGLE MOTHERS WERE THE SCORGE OF AMERICA...THIS PROFESOR IS BETER KNOW AS SENATOR MONAHAND OR THE SENATOR WHO HILLARY CLINTON REPLACED FRO TEH JOB FORLIFE AS SENTIOR FOR TIS REPORT...

OH AND HELL USE IT WORKS SEE HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUR MOTHERS AND I TRY TOCOUNTER IT WITH WHY THIS SURVIVAL TOOL MUST BE TAUGHT OUR OF US OR SOME OF US SINCE I HAVE NOT ACCEPTED IT OR SAYING THE N-WORD OVER SAYNG'*****'...BUT TO FARTHER SAY WHAT I MEAN IS THANKS TO THE PANTHERS AND THE BLACK TINK TNK WE HAVE NOW BEEN ABLE TO GET OUR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO RELASE OUR RECORDED HISTORY THEY HELD ON TO UNTIL THEN SO WE COULD BE TAUGHT THEIRVERSON OF SLAVES COULDNOT READ OR WRITE AND TO TEARN AGAINS OUR HISTORY TAUGHT BY FARRAKHAN AND WRIGHT...

GEET IT NOW WHERE WE GET IT FROM BOTH WRITTEN AND ORAL???????????????????

I AM SURE YOU WILL GET IT BUT THE JEN'S ARE MORE LIKE THECNN SPECIALS SAYING I AM DOING TIS BECAUSE I DON'TLIKE "CHRISTIAN AMERICA"

SO GALS OU ASKED, BUT THEN YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW THIS ANSWER BUT THEN WE SHOULDNOT WORRY ABOUT THE STATES LIKE ARIZONA BANNING WHAT I SAY AS THEY WANT TO DO SINCE INFO LIKE THIS HAS GOTTEN US A BLACK IN THE WHITE HOUSE...WE TEN TODO THINGS LIKE THIS WHEN WE GET MAD ATBEING LIED TOFOR, FOR EVERY LIKE WE HAVE BEEN...LOV YA... (SMILE)

OH, HAE YOU SEEN MY LATEST BLOGS 'NUP' AGAIN LOL!!!...
Thursday, April 10th 2014 at 6:47PM
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