This month U.S. Army Gen. Oliver O. Howard calls for a gathering of Edisto Island’s freedmen. Howard is loathe to break the bad news to the assembled crowd, representative of some 40,000 former slaves who now till what they think are their own lands, given to them by Union General William T. Sherman earlier this year.
The white elites of South Carolina, the men who had betrayed their nation, had successfully convinced the federal government to return the coastal area plantations to the former slaveowners.
With great sadness and masking anger at the injustice, Howard informs the former slaves, men, women and children whose labor for generations had been stolen by planters for their enrichment, that the United States government has taken away the land that had been promised to freedmen.
Gen. Howard asks the freedmen, many of whom are Baptists, to “lay aside their bitter feelings, and to become reconciled to their old masters.”
Someone calls out, “Why General Howard, why do you take away our lands? . . . You give them to our all-time enemies. This is not right!”
There are to be no reparations for the generations of stolen labor, here and throughout the South. For this injustice the South will suffer for many more generations, divided by racial hatred and animosity as white southerners retain control of state governments and the region’s wealth, intentionally ensuring that African Americans as a race remain disadvantaged and disproportionately impoverished.
Source: John H. Tibbetts, “Emancipation Day: The Freed People of Port Royal,” Coastal Heritage, Volume 25, No. 1, Fall 2012 (link)