Many of us have heard of the (broken) promise to newly freed slaves..Some parts of that part of history have been quoted with mistruths and little known facts..First and foremost General William T. Sherman in ‘Special Field Order 15’ promised 40 acres; but not the mule. The mule was added later..But what isn’t often told is how it all came about. It wasn’t a good will gesture made by General William T. Sherman alone..It was prompted by the direct result of a discussion (held 4 days before the order was announced) between General Sherman, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and 20 leaders of the Black community in Savannah, Georgia. The meeting was unprecedented in American history! And as much as I thought I knew about history and black history; I didn’t know until recently that black leaders were present in that discussion..
The ‘promised’ land was 400,000 acres( owned by confederate land owners) and was to be confiscated by the government and given to newly freed slaves so they could OWN their own land. Which , at the time, was a part of the American dream..As it still is! This promise was made to approximately 3.9 million former slaves..The land involved was describes in detail in this manner.. “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.”
Special Field Order 15 goes on to describe what is to be done with the land(totally run by newly freed slaves..) in this manner ” … 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.”
What is also little known is that the 20 black leaders who brought this idea to General William Sherman were ministers. 11 of them were born free men! 10 of them lived as free men during the Civil War; the remaining 9 freed due to the Emancipation Proclamation. When General Sherman asked the chosen spokesman, a Baptist minister named Garrison Frazier(a prior slave), what did the Negro want most . He said, “Land! That way we can take care of ourselves!”
…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…
I imagine a very different America IF this promise had been kept! I imagine things would’ve and could’ve rightfully been half-arsed set right had a broken promise not come behind years of enslavement..I can’t imagine how broken those ministers(not to mention the almost 4 million newly freed slaves..) felt when that happened. Trust levels broken down at the deepest level(s) for 246 years & then THIS..Given something one minute & promised a chance for …For what? A piece of the American Dream? Freedom? Equality? Are we there YET?