One person's thoughts may change the world
“40 acres and a mule refers to the short-lived policy, during the last stages of the American Civil War in 1865, of providing arable land to black former slaves who had become free as a result of the advance of the Union armies into the territory previously controlled by the Confederacy, particularly after Major General’s William Tecumseh Sherman‘s “March to the Sea.””
After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, his successor, Andrew Johnson, revoked Sherman’s Orders and returned the land to its previous white owners. Because of this, the phrase “40 acres and a mule” has come to represent the failure of Reconstruction policies in restoring to African Americans the fruits of their labor.
So there it is. That definition was taken from Wikipedia, the encyclopedia killer. I had to say that, I think Wikipedia is remarkable, but, whew, Britannica on disk wasn’t quite making it anyway. OK so I’m exploring the myth of 40 acres and a mule and the facts and why it should resonate to all people. Not just African Americans, but to all people.
In the last stages of the Civil war, General Sherman was ruthless. And that’s what war is. He was determined to crush the south. Make them pay. Bring them to their knees. Scorched earth policy, total war. While driving further south, he created Special Field orders, No. 15, issued on January 16, 1865, provided for the land, while some of its beneficiaries also received mules from the Army, for use in plowing. Now if you look closely, it said, “mules”, not just a mule. As slaves were being “freed”, there was not much for them to do but to seek protection by their new liberators. These “freed” slaves were now refugees. ( you know that same name that was given to New Orleans residence who were American citizens when reporting on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina)….10,000 slaves were settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina.
If you also notice, it said, “Fruits of their labor”. Meaning, they earned it. They worked for it. It was back wages to a crime that was perpetrated upon them. Stolen from their land. Sold into slavery. Forced to work for free. Denied the opportunity to work their way out of it ( indentured servant; slavery, but a different flavor of it) .
What I find remarkable about African Americans of that time period was, they wanted to become part of greater society. Sure, there were those who wanted to return back to their homeland ( where ever that may be ), but for many, the USA was their new home. Sure, there were those who wanted to migrate to Liberia, centered around 1820 through the help of the American Colonization Society ( wow what a name ), a private organization that believed ex-slaves would have greater freedom and equality in Africa. Some in this organization were evangelicals. Some even said it was a a racist organization with the intent to take over African once enough people populated the country. Can you imagine? Rich white people of that time period, having a soft spot in their heart for you, so much in effect that they were willing to create a new country in Africa for you and helped you get there? They even published a journal called the African Repository and Colonial Journal. A total of 13,000 did migrate there, and it’s been total chaos ever since.
OK so back to the 40 acres and the mule. After the assassination of President Lincoln, President Johnson revoked General Sherman’s orders. So, in my opinion we have been struggling ever since. A different kind of struggle. One that was met with another 100 years of second class citizenship. Jim Crow. Separate but equal laws. Sharecropping. The terrorist organization called the KKK. And then, finally 1964. Finally, true freedom, marches, sit ins, shootings, killings, and a host of other things related with the fight for that freedom, to which was already granted to African Americans be the constitution. Then further demands came, reparations. WOW, the “R” word. Hey the Japanese got it for their internment during WWII didn’t they?
To put it bluntly, President Andrew Johnson messed up. If he had allowing the former slaves transfer of land for work tenured, you have essentially given them the ability to feed themselves, instead of the beginnings of the segregated that formed soon after the war. Former slaves now could run their own farms, and, set their own destiny. They already had the higher skilled trades of horse shoeing, blacksmith and other trades; the farming trade was easy, farming had not become fully mechanized yet. Every former slave could have not been a farmer, obviously. Reconstruction would have still been messy, but not as messy as it turned out to be. In essence, 1964 would have occurred a lot earlier. Integration through economic security would have made it less of an issue. And my friends has been the argument for the last 150years by many scholars in the African American think tank. Only through economics, in combination with higher education will the African American achieve that long sought after respect, and equality principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States.
Now let’s fast forward to today. In our large inner cities, we have a large number of African Americans who are living below the poverty line. That same statistic is closely related to, guess what, education. Everyone has to be educated, and in a variety of ways to compete. Right now there are different approaches to solve this problem but, and in some cases, there has been success in getting more kids graduated as well as moving on to college. This also goes hand in hand in the global economy. The U.S. is competing, with large populated countries, like India and China. Those countries have a large underclass which are being invested into to learn as infiltrate the global market in science, engineering and computers. In the current campaign for nomination to represent the Republican Party to be President, most of the candidates wanted to get rid of the Department of Education, and leave it as a states issue for public education.
By not upholding “Special Field orders, No. 15” the United States debt to the decedents of freed slaves is to ensure the education for African Americans, and for that matter, for all Americans is fair, equitable, and competitive. That’s the only way to ensure economic security for everyone…Otherwise, you’d better start learning Mandarin Chinese…