This Day in Black History: Jan. 16, 1865

Gen. William T. Sherman issues order giving freed Blacks 40 acres and a mule.

Posted: 01/16/2013 08:00 AM EST
This Day in Black History: Jan. 16, 1865, Gen. William T. Sherman

(Photo: Public Domain)

Before the 13th amendment deemed slavery unconstitutional, freed Blacks living near the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida were promised 40 acres and a mule.

Union army Gen. William T. Sherman met with 20 Black community leaders of Savannah, Georgia, and explained to them that land ownership was the true mark of free men. On Jan. 16, 1865, Sherman issued a special field order that gave each family 40 acres and an army mule. With input from the freed slaves he set aside the Sea Islands and a 330-mile stretch of land along the southern coast of Charleston to be exclusively settled by them.

After slavery was abolished, the land came under jurisdiction of the Freedmen’s Bureau who worked to protect the property and develop schools for newly freed Africans. But conflict arose between President Andrew Johnson and Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, the head of the Freedmen’s Bureau, when Johnson revoked any promise of property, giving all abandoned and confiscated land, back to the original landowners.

Many Blacks were forced into tenant farming, working for very little money, and unfortunately becoming indebted to landowners.

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