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This Far by Faith

Journeys

Timeline

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About the Series
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1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA
1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR
Next Journey
A Foretaste of Freedom 1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW



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Timeline: 1776-1865 View Detailed Timeline
1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues



1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR
A Foretaste of Freedom



"We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own." --Garrison Frazier, January 12, 1865, in answer to questions from General Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton


It began during the winter of 1865. As the Union Army marched through Georgia, a shadow army of former slaves, freed, but jobless and homeless, followed. By some accounts they numbered up to 4,000. The Union soldiers used some of them as laborers but had no way to feed or clothe the vast majority. They were known as "contraband."


Major General Sherman and staff. This view taken in trenches before Atlanta, 1864.

Major General Sherman and staff. This view taken in trenches before Atlanta, 1864.


As the soldiers approached Savannah, they prepared to cross Ebenezer Creek. The Union commander placed his pontoon bridge down, and marched his army across. The freedmen following also started across, but then the Union commander ordered the bridge pulled up, causing some of the freedmen to drown.

Word of this was carried back to Washington via the newspapers, and President Lincoln sent Edwin Stanton down to investigate. Sherman expressed annoyance at the logistical problem the freedmen posed, and asked, "What do these Negroes want?" Stanton told Sherman to ask them himself.

Sherman requested a meeting, and the local churches sent twenty black men - lay and clergy - to meet with him at the home of a local merchant. The black men, some former slaves, some not, elected Garrison Frazier, a Baptist minister, as their leader. Frazier had been a slave for sixty years, and was a minister in a Baptist church where both free and slave blacks worshipped. He had bought his freedom just as the war started. Now, here he was, a 68-year old man, facing a General of the Union Army.

Sherman began by testing Frazier's mettle. He asked whether Frazier understood the reason for the war. He answered clearly in the affirmative. When asked whether they preferred to live separately or among whites, Frazier replied, "I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us that would not permit for our peace, prosperity, and harmony." He and his fellows understood that salvation lay in owning their own land and having independence.

Four days later, Sherman issued Field Order, No. 15. It stated: "The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the Negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States." Sherman ordered Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton to distribute to the head of each black family "not more than forty acres of tillable land" and to give the freedmen any animals no longer useful to the army. It was this order that generated the slogan "forty acres and a mule".


Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the U.S., elected after Lincoln's assassination.

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the U.S., elected after Lincoln's assassination.


The pastor of Bryan Baptist Church in Savannah took one thousand black families and tried to homestead Skidaway Island, one of the Sea Islands, in an attempt to create a black-owned state under black control. His effort was short-lived, as the terms of the land distribution remained ambiguous. Was the government giving the freedpeople the acreage outright, or leasing it? Regardless, by June 1865, approximately 40,000 ex-slaves had settled on about 400,000 acres of land in the designated area.

But that September, after Lincoln's assassination, President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessean sympathetic to the South, pardoned former Confederates. He ordered the land the freedmen were homesteading restored to their owners. Riots ensued as federal troops forcibly evacuated blacks from land they thought they had earned rightfully with the fruit of their unpaid labor. For African-Americans, it was the first bitter taste of the Promised Land of freedom.


Freedmen, laboring on a wharf.

Freedmen, laboring on a wharf.





Did You Know?



No one actually promised "40 Acres and a Mule."
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Congress created the Freedman's Bureau to help with the emancipation process.
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