Forty Acres and A Mule (FAAM) by today’s standards would certainly fetch a hefty price depending on location. But in 1865, it was not about money, but about self-worth and opportunity. Take a trip with me and explore for a moment what ownership of forty acres and mule would have done for our ancestors and the impact it might have had on our lives today. FAAM would have allowed a man to feed his family by the sweat of his brow; would have made it possible for his wife and children to enjoy their own chitlins’ and their own pigs-feet, and not the trickle-down scraps from the master’s table; and would have rendered moot this cycle of dependency.
The docudrama “Banished”, a film by director Marco Williams airing on Starz Black Television this month in honor of Black History Month, explores African-American families expelled from their communities by the White majority residents. The story highlights the plight of many African-American families who were forced to abandon their homes and their lands under threat of death simply because of the color of their skin. The relationship here is that many or all of these lands were then taken over by whites under what is called “adverse possession.” Meaning that someone can claim property you forcibly abandoned, use it to their benefit and then have the legal system, they created, support their thievery. Sound familiar? Sounds eerily like slavery. Unfortunately, as was always the case, all of these cleansings were done under the guise that a black man had raped a white woman.
False charges and historical patterns notwithstanding, it is the significance of the outcome where stories such as these, crystallize. Not only did the United States government renege on its [unofficial] policy of providing arable land to black former slaves, but for those blacks who were able to purchase and acquire land legally, their lands were stolen and subsequently passed down through white generations instead of black generations. FAAM would have given a black man’s children something to look forward too, and would probably have changed the lives of many blacks today regarding where they start and where they end up.
Melvin Oliver, a prominent sociologist says, “Wealth is not just about contemporary issues. It's also about the legacy of the past….African Americans have a history where there has been little wealth in the past, therefore making it more likely that there's little wealth in the future.” Unfortunately, we cannot live on “probably would haves”. But somebody please, “Tell me again why we should forget?”
Written by Jay Arrington, Staff Writer for the Maryland Daily Examiner
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