Forty Acres and a Mule

James Meredith said that the most powerful word in the current English language was “Mississippi.” Well, there’s another word that packs almost as much “puissance” or potency, and it’s “reparations.”

It’s the elephant in the room; the unseen guest at every meal; the bull in the china shop; the thorn in the side of the body politic; the emperor’s new clothes.

Was there an actual promise of “forty acres and a mule” to freed slaves, and has the promise been broken?

What does the record say?

The idea of reparations for slavery in the United States can be traced to General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Special Field Orders, No. 15, issued on January 16, 1865, from Savannah, Georgia. 

The Order confiscated some 400,000 acres of farmland from loyal confederates in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and it was to be given to around 18,000 former but now emancipated slaves who had joined his army for protection at various points along his triumphant “March to the Sea.”

Although 400,000 acres divided by 18,000 only equals a little more than 22 acres, allowances were obviously made for family size, and the land was to be divided into 40-acre parcels.

 

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