(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, which 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.