The transition from slavery to freedom afterthe end of slavery proved to be a challenge not only to Whites who had been used to free labor but also African Americans who struggled to fit in the society as free people. Whereas African Americans wanted to be free politically, economically, and socially among other aspects, such as religion, White elites residing in the South wanted slavery to continue. As a way of ensuring that slavery did not resume, African Americans demanded fairness in land ownership. Although this might be seen as a minor demand in comparison to the other rights that they fought fighting for, the ability to own land was a way of freeing African Americans from working in the plantations of white people where they had endured mistreatment.
During the slavery period, slaves were required to report to the fields at dawn and work for long periods without breaks. They would also leave the fields late in the evening only to wake up the next day to perform the same roles. Their freedom allowed them to enjoy the pleasures such as an extra hour of sleep in the morning or leaving the fields early, which had been forbidden (Finzsch 147-160). Without land and access to food and other necessities, the freed slaves knew that they would have to resume working for white people. While the landowners did not have much money to offer, they could offer the ex-slaves a share of their crops as payment for their labor. African Americans wanted to be landowners to make decisions for themselves on matters such as the terms of women and farms (Finzsch 163). They also wanted to enroll children in schools instead of making them work in the plantations. However, some forces thwarted the slaves’ ability to own land.
One of these was the issues that White elites who wanted to restore forced labor stirred. For example, while sharecropping could have benefited both African Americans and White property owners in most cases, it forced African Americans into debt servitude whereby they were forced to work to pay off their debts. Additionally, the Whites utilized legal and extra-legal approaches that bound the former slaves to their lands through the debts owned, real or contrived. Expenses such as mules, farming tools, seeds, food, clothing, and other daily necessities were purchased on credit; therefore, most African Americans ended up being indebted to the Whites (Finzsch 160; Copeland 652-654).
While the African Americans continued to fight for their right to own property, White elites in the South remained bent on restoring slavery. For example, African Americans were promised 40 acres of land and mules. However, a year later, President Andrew Johnson ordered the land to be returned to its White owners. The move led to the former slaves being driven from the land shortly after settling there (Stinebricner 37). Some of them drove away the White settlers using guns and other weapons in protest of the directive. The Southern Homestead Act, which increased land prices, made it hard for the former slaves to buy the land because they did not have much capital (Copeland 650-651). Without land, African Americans were forced to work in the Whites’ plantations.
Although the freed persons enjoyed freedom, the transition from slavery was not easy. Since they were no longer the responsibility of their former masters, they needed to fend for themselves. They also felt the need to protect themselves from re-enslavement. The former slaves believed that land was the solution to their problems, so they sought to own some. However, they faced immense challenges in the quest to own land due to the unfavorable land policies that the Southern Homestead Act imposed. The law made land expensive and plunged the ex-slaves into debts thus they were unable to own the property.
Copeland, Roy W. “In the Beginning: Origins of African American Real Property Ownership in the United States.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 44, no. 6, 2013. pp.. 646-664. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.884.7411&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Web
Finzsch, Norbert. The End of Slavery, The Role of the Freedmen’s Bureau and The Introduction of Peonage. Berlin: Munster, 2011. http://phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/fileadmin/histsem1/anglo/Finzsch_end_of_slavery_endfassung.pdf.
Stinebricner, Bruce. American Government. Dushin Publishing Group, 2002. Print.