09/18/06 - reparations in 1865

In today's excerpt - reparations to slaves in 1865:

"For the ex-slaves, the promise of land was real, not just something they imagined or hoped for. General William Tecumseh Sherman made the promise when thousands of freed people followed the troops when he marched his army from Atlanta to the sea in 1864-1865, laying waste the Confederacy. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton heard reports that he had been heartless and shown indifference to the poverty-stricken condition of the newly freed people. Stanton came to Savannah in January to meet with Sherman and talk to African-American leaders about their needs. Twenty blacks selected by Union authorities, deacons and ministers, three quarters of whom had been slaves, came to the meeting and let national leaders know that land was their major priority. When asked how they could best support their families, their self-selected leader, Garrison Frazier from Granville, North Carolina, replied, 'To have land and turn in and till it by our labor.'

"With Stanton's support, Sherman approved the request. He issued Order Number 15 of January 16, 1865, designating the rich sea islands and plantation areas from Charleston to Jacksonville, thirty miles inland, for settlement by the freedmen. Each adult male could claim a forty-acre tract. The March 3, 1865 Freedmen's Bureau Act repeated the promise that each freedman would be assigned 'not more than forty acres' of abandoned or confiscated land at rental for three years, and an option to purchase at the end of that time, with 'such title thereto as the United States can convey.' Word of the promise spread quickly among the ex-slaves.

"By June 1865, 40,000 freedmen had been settled on the coastal lands and were growing crops. The promise of forty acres and a mule seemed a reality. However, any hope that this policy would expand to the rest of the South proved to be an illusion. After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, President Andrew Johnson gutted the policy. He issued an amnesty proclamation on May 29, 1865, pardoning many rebels and restoring their lands to them. Abolitionists tried to stop the policy change, but to no avail. ... Incredulous, the freedmen cried out at the betrayal."


Mary Frances Berry


My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-slave Reparations


First Vintage Books


Copyright 2005 by Mary Frances Berry


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