Day 15 – 40 acres and a mule… Or Maybe Not

Welcome to Day 15!

While I have celebrated Black History Month in the past by sharing articles and tidbits with family and friends this time it’s different.  Instead of simply finding a link or story that stood out, I have really been looking for topics that weren’t so common and have learned so much this time around.  We see and hear about a lot of things but sometimes don’t really know, take the time to understand or care to know the back story.

Take for instance the saying that blacks were owed 40 acres and a mule.  Did anyone else know the back story behind this or had heard of Field Order No. 15 of 1865?  We understand the 40 acres was a radical attempt to right the wrongs of so many years of unpaid labor during slavery, but what about the mule?

Here’s what it was all about…

The Reconstruction period was a time when former slaves were literally trying to get their lives back which included the continued fight for economic independence and there were two actions offering hope that the government would actually come through.  One was  the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1865 established to provide relief to freedmen and refugees in several areas such as food, shelter and clothing and the second was Field Order No. 15 issued by General William T. Sherman.

“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.” 

During a meeting between General Sherman and twenty black leaders, he was convinced that land ownership was the best way for the newly freed blacks to secure freedom and in January 1965, the order was issued which was to have set aside a large area of land along in areas of South Carolina and Georgia meant exclusively for the settlement of black families.

Each family would receive forty acres and within about six months, nearly 40,000 former slaves were occupying 400,000 acres of coastal land and later Sherman ordered that the army could lend the new settlers mules.

Sadly, these conditions were short lived and within a year of the act came to a halt at the time legislation for the Freedmen’s Bureau Act was being revised and specifically due to the sentiments of several senators who felt the land and services would only make former slaves and refugees dependent on the government.

It was then that President Andrew Johnson stepped in with an order to have the majority of the land confiscated an returned to its former owners, including the land the freedmen had already settled.

“Are they free men, or are they not? If they are free men, why not let them stand as free men?”
– Senator James Grimes

In the end the land along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts ended up being returned to the same people who had declared war on the United States of America.

Remember why blacks were expecting reparations.





SOURCES: , Britannica , United States Senate , The Root

PHOTO CREDIT:  Black History 365



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