“40 Acres And A Mule”: The Staggering Truth Behind America’s Broken Promise

Protestors holding signs
L. Graciella Maiolatesi
November 28, 2022

Between 1861 to 1865 ,Union soldiers confiscated nearly 400,000 acres of confederate land spanning from South Carolina to Florida. After numerous debates between prominent Black leaders and white politicians, it was recommended that the land be divided into 40-acre segments and redistributed to Black refugees displaced by the Civil War.

President Abraham Lincoln approved, and nearly 40,000 formerly enslaved Black people received land along the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coasts. The Army sometimes gave away mules to help with plowing land, so a mule became an additional expectation. 

Thus “40 acres and a mule” was born.

Unfortunately, post Civil War, President Andrew Johnson blocked these reparations. Johnson didn’t believe Black people deserved land reparations, so he forcibly displaced Black families and redistributed their land to previous white-owners. 

But why does any of this matter today?

Government reparations are possible. The US government provided reparations to Japanese Americans held in World War II internment camps, and to victims of the Holocaust. They even provided reparations to white Americans who enslaved us after enslavement ended.

If America had kept its broken promise to Black Americans, some estimate that the value of the 40 acres and a mule would amount to $640 billion today. 

The fight to repair what has been stolen from us must not end. We must remember, we have the right to demand reparations, big or small, on a daily basis.

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