Black History: Special Delivery!!

40 acres

Forty Acres and a Mule” refers to an 1865 promise many formerly enslaved African Americans felt that the United States government had made to them at the close of the Civil War when Union General George T. Sherman ordered that lands confiscated from confederate landowners be redistributed be given to the formerly enslaved. As the Union Army marched through the south, many blacks followed them in order to flee enslavement. Sherman’s decision to re-assign the confiscated lands came after he met with a group of 20 black ministers led by baptist minister Garrison Frazier. Sherman asked the group what they wanted for their people and Fraizer told him that people needed land to farm in orderto make a living. Sherman authorized the redistribution of lands under “Special Field Order No. 15”.

The request was made first for land only. The mule came later. When the Union Army under the leadership of General William T. Sherman captured the city of Savannah, Georgia, he ordered that plantations near the Georgia and South Carolina coasts be divided among black residents who hoped to work as farmers to earn money and eventually buy the confiscated lands.

Within 6 months, 40,000 men were occupying 40,000 acres of land. It would be later that Sherman would also include the “lending” of mules. This is how the term “forty acres and a mule” was derived. President Andrew Johnson quickly began to return the confiscated lands back to plantation owners who he began to pardon after the civil war. Within several months after Sherman’s orders; many of the black families that had settled on plantation lands were evicted. What Sherman started in January of 1865 was reversed by President Johnson by the Fall of 1865. Johnson’s return of lands to plantation owners would essentially force some blacks who were living on the land to begin working for plantation owners to make a living.

The re-assignment of land to the formerly enslaved was isolated occurring only on the Georgia and South Carolina coasts.

Historian Kate Masur explains the history behind “forty acres and a mule”. Click the link to view.