Your Say

‘Give me my forty acres but keep your mule’

Former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis speaks with fellow protesters outside the Macon Coliseum prior to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's speech in 2015.
Former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis speaks with fellow protesters outside the Macon Coliseum prior to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's speech in 2015. JASON VORHEES

With this being Black History Month, I think it’s only fitting to share a little black history which also happens be American history, as well American history being black history. In the aftermath of the Civil War, a war fought to free enslaved Africans. I use the term Africans, because they were not considered Americans, but property to be bought and sold at the whim of their owners.

For instance, the richest man in Macon, prior to the Civil War, the owner of the Bond House on Coleman Hill, over 75 percent of his holdings were slaves. As a matter of fact, there were several slave markets located in downtown Macon during this era. At the beginning of the Civil War some 500,000 enslaved Africans and mullatos resided in the state of Georgia with most living south of Macon, albeit they were supplied from the slave markets in Macon.

This area of our state was and is, commonly referred to as the “Black Belt,” for two reasons: The soil is very rich, dark and conducive to producing the best cotton ever known to mankind and 75 percent of all black people inhabited this region.

Directly after the Civil War and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation field order No. 15 was signed which ultimately lead to an act of Congress and the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau which passed Congress by a total of only two votes. The Freedmen’s Bureau was created to assist recently freed slaves to acquire property, education, health care and other social and physical needs.

It was placed under the War Department as the Bureau of Refugees (seems familiar even today) and abandoned and confiscated lands. All abandoned and confiscated land from the treasonist South was placed in the hands of this bureau to be given, leased and sold to the ex-slaves in 40-acre parcels along with a government mule. However, through trickery, conniving and other dishonest means some 800,000 acres of captured lands in the hands of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Georgia mysteriously disappeared. Thus leaving over a half million recently freed men and women in the state (Georgia had the largest slave population in the country prior to the Civil War) jobless, homeless and landless with very few exceptions.

The vision and dreams of 40-acres and a mule which the nation had promised the freed men and women turned into a nightmare for most. One can only imagine what the condition of the African-American population in Georgia and other states of the old Confederacy would be had freedom indeed come and were sustained with that 40-acres and a mule.

Unfortunately, the economic impact of the freed slaves not being allowed to realize the promise after over 200 years of free labor can never be accurately calculated. Suffice it to say that it was huge or Bernie Sanders would say it was “yugge.” Therefore it shouldn’t be frowned upon when the subject of reparations is discussed as a real possibility and worthy of discussion.

Webster’s Dictionary describes the word “reparation” as a righting of a wrong, something done or paid as compensation for a wrong. What could be more wrong than one people enslaving another for the purpose of free labor while building a new nation? While some are for making American great again, I want to make her pay for her misdeeds to an entire race of people because of no other reason but for the color of their skin. A fate that has never been delivered upon any other race in our “great” country’s history. A country, state and region built upon the backs of the free labor of enslaved Africans.

With the death of slavery and the birth of its first cousin, Jim Crow, the descendants of those enslaved Africans continued to be exploited — economically through sharecropping and peonage — well into the 20th century and in some places in the deep south, including Macon, economic discrimination and separate but unequal treatment continued until the signing of the 1964 Civil Right Act.

So on behalf of my great grandparents who were emancipated slaves, I want their 40-acres but you can keep the mule. I will even buy my own tractor.

C. Jack Ellis, The first and only African-American mayor of Macon.