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African American Economic Recovery Think Tank​ 


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An ongoing series of informational truths. 

The Truth behind '40 Acres and a Mule'

January 15, 2017

The Truth behind '40 Acres and a Mule'

100 Amazing Facts about the Negro: Find out who came up with the idea, and how it fell through. ULYSSES L. HOUSTON, IN LITHOGRAPH (HE WAS A FRIEND TO ALL, W. &M., SAVANNAH, GA., 1890)

Editor's note: For those who are wondering about the retro title of this black history series, please take a moment to learn about historian Joel A. Rogers, author of the 1934 book 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof, to whom these "amazing facts" are an homage.

Updated Sept. 2, 2013: As the nation celebrates Labor Day, the federal holiday honoring American workers, it is worth also remembering those who labored without pay or recognition for centuries. With that in mind, we're revisiting this previously published "Amazing Fact" about a promise that was made to many of them -- one that brought with it the prospect of enjoying the fruits of their labor.

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 hope 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 fundamental 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 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 reports leave out is that this idea for massive land redistribution 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."

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

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 waterfront, in 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 more significant implications are mind-boggling.

Who Came Up With the Idea?

Here's how this radical proposal -- which must have completely blown the minds of the rebel Confederates -- 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 tremendous 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 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 ten had lived as free men in the Confederacy during 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 black person 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 labor … and we can soon maintain ourselves and have something to spare … We want to be placed on land until we can 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 groups 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.

Life Out of Context by Walter Mosley

February 14, 2017

August 5, 2008

From the bottom up - Life out of context

Excerpt: Life Out of Context by Walter Mosley, AlterNet. Posted March 24, 2006.

"Since natural reasons are not motivating us (African Americans) to unite, we have to create a rallying point -- a reason for us to get together and work as one.”

The following is an excerpt from Walter Mosley's "Life Out of context" (Nation Books). If the circumstances of life don't bring us together and force us to act in concert, then we must create our circumstance. This seems to be a self-evident truth. Being an artist, not unlike the venerable Public Intellectual whose presentation sent me on this path of investigation, I feel I must try to construct a system that will illuminate those critical issues we all have in common. Only in this light can we see each other and transcend the tyranny of the pocketbook."

Famous author Walter Mosley “Life out of context,” defined the present day life of the African American community. The lack of African American leadership from the religious, political, educational and business ranks are the significant causes of 60 to 70 percent of African Americans living life out of context today.

Since the Post-Civil rights era 50 plus years later African American leadership and civil right organization have sold out the African American community for self-serving preferential treatment and grant money. The lack of unified goals among the boule African American leadership has crippled the entire African American community. The NAACP, SCLC, Democrat Party, Republican Party and the African American Churches are pimping the African American community. The boule African American Leadership is stuck on stupidity to believe begging for loans and grants will help change our depressing future facing us as a people.

Integration, welfare, child support enforcement, institutional and workplace racism and nepotism, drama queens and baby mothers, negative stereotyping in the Caucasian/Jews owned media, toxic waste sites, and the lack of discipline in homes and schools are destroying the African American family from within America. Leadership has no plan of action to decrease the breakup of the family. The Mayor administration has no idea or effort to reduce crime in the community. DCPS Leadership has no plan of action to minimize high school dropouts and truancy. African American leadership has no intention of unifying collectively, no goals, or an agenda to achieve any worthy endeavor in the African American Community.

When you have self-serving leaders like Dr. Juan Gray of the SCLC and Isaiah Rumlin of the NAACP, profound ignorance we see today in Jacksonville. How can we arise from the abyss of self-destruction? Stem Education and Collective Economics is still the key to life for any nationality. Before we (African Americans) can move forward, we must learn to sacrifice now for a better day tomorrow for our children and legacy. If we would invest more time and money into self-education, we could save our children and under-served communities. The African American Roadmap holistically is the key to prosperity on all levels of the paradigm.

The only solutions for African Americans today is

1. Rebuilding the African American Family

2. Self-Education

3. Self-Reliance

4. Preventive Healthcare

5. Political Power controlled by precinct voting blocks and Civic Engagement.

I hope and pray to the spirit the boule African American leadership finds some courage and empathy for the people they served. Developing some courage to embrace self-education and self-reliant as a way to rebuilding the African American family. A nation of people who do not embrace a living history lack self-identity, self-esteem, self-confidence in self and others. African American history is defined and owned by Caucasian educational institutions. It’s a shame the world knows our history better than we do as African Americans.

Being independent means policing your community and protecting all people regardless of nationality. We, African American fathers in Jacksonville must stand up for self-education, self-reliant, love and protect our children throughout the community. The role of leadership is to nourish the consciousness of this city. True Leadership principles and goals are to direct, lead and educate the community about self. Right-minded Leadership embraces and inform the community about self-reliance daily. True Leadership provides and protects the family by any means necessary. True Leadership learns to work together to establish a generational legacy of prosperity on all levels. It’s time for the African American male leadership to stands up and become accountable to the community at large, nation and the world. We, African American fathers and men must stand-up for the sake of developing and leaving a positive legacy for the future generations.

"History shows that it does not matter who is in power... those who have not learned to do for themselves and had to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning." -- Dr. Carter G. Woodson


Stanley Scott

[email protected]


March 15, 2017

Cultivated Ignorance perpetuated by the Misguided African American Leadership.

As I write this great truth concerning apathetic African American leadership, it comes with great pain. As a child, I learned early in life everything has a price. As an Adult male and father, I understand the power of those words. Collectively the African American leadership in Jacksonville has failed to realize or cultivate this life principle. Jacksonville African American Leadership has been unable to understand “no one is coming to save us.” Since the end of the Civil Right era, the African American community has regressed into a despicable state of social, civic and economic co-dependency. The African American Religious and Political Leadership ignorance are holistically killing the soul of the African American community.

I agree with Civil Rights Leader and Mentor Mr. Edward Exson Sr; Truth Telling Time, 6/9/2009: “Whereas hundreds of thousands of African-Americans fall from radar walk off the face of the earth; with few that have empathy for their circumstances, and others are thinking with their demise the world is better off. As Blacks, we should not be surprised at our present condition. We were alerted in The Dark Ghetto by Dr. Kenneth Clark, The Moynihan Report by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan then Assistant Secretary of Labor, An American Dilemma: The Negro problem and modern democracy, by Gunnar Myrdal, economist and politician, Mis-Education of the Negro, by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Those men understood slavery’s impact on us. However, we opposed their writing, still in denial, and unable to contradict any of their work. We could have been rescuing from our destructive plight with education, Dr. King’s victories, and ethnic unity. However, our contemporary black leaders chose self and racial discrimination, which in itself has consequences as bad as racial discrimination. I acknowledge with pride that many blacks have made many great contributions to America and Jacksonville. Accordingly, there is hardly an organization or group this date, by blacks in Jacksonville that has more substance than folly (so sad). Most preachers are morally bankrupt and intellectually inept. Legislatively our elected has done absolutely nothing, look at our neighborhoods, they should be made to wear jockey silks so to see whose stable owns them. The SCLC locally is dead! The Local NAACP is no semblance of an organization for change. President Rumilin puts a chokehold on any community initiative for change. I applauded Ms. Atkins for her insight on the education committee. Other agencies are just about pomp. Now that the social scientist has started a subtle ethnic cleansing in this new world order, I suggest to you that Dr. King’s dream has disillusioned by his people’s, commissions and omissions from a verity of fronts. What you will see within 100 years in spite of Obama, white boys and girls will be asking what happened to black people. That is what you will see. Edward Exson 2009”

Today, more than ever Leadership is required in the African American community. For more than 50 plus years the African American Leadership has betrayed the African American community. No longer can the African American community allowed leadership folly, religious fanaticism, and politic cronyism to misdirect our resolve. The African-American community collectively is suffering not because of racism, poverty, or crime the primary reason is self-inflicted ignorance. Decreasing the pathology in North Jacksonville cannot be achieved by the present African American leadership especially the Faith-based. I respect the African American religious leadership but hold them accountable overall for the blighted economic condition in the urban core. The African American Economic Recovery Think Tank has developed a holistic financial roadmap impacting the Quality of Life in the downtown core throughout Jacksonville North Bank. 

The AAERTT understand the methodology needed to affect these communities. The AAERTT knows how to build a competent goal-driven team to achieve that strategy.

AAERTT has four implementation components needed to increase the Quality of Life index by 20 to 30 percent within three years in North Jacksonville.

1. Family Infrastructure

2. Education based on the Arts and History

3. Preventive Healthcare

4. Community Development and Ownership

The violent crime increase is a direct correlation of misguided leadership failure to understand and implement Community Engagement 101. The only way to improve the blighted conditions of so many in the Urban Core requires new leadership. Open minded cohesive leadership, who are readers, live in the community and commit to our resolve.

Stanley “Doc” Scott

PO Box 2672

Jacksonville, Florida 32203

Email: [email protected], @aaertt, @stanleydocscott