On Oct 19, 1865, Union General Oliver O. Howard was on board a small boat bound for Edisto Island, South Carolina. It is six months after the conclusion of the bloodiest conflict ever recorded on American soil: The Civil War. It was a war that brought the unintended consequence of freeing over 4 million enslaved Africans in America from the abominable horrors of chattel slavery.
Edisto had the famous, or infamous distinction, of being home to the south’s most prosperous tea plantations. These plantations were controlled by a small group of southern land owners that ran a vast network of thousands of slave encampments on the Island.
Howard, known as the Christian General, abhorred slavery. History has never recorded Howard’s inner thoughts as he approached Edisto. But if his convictions were intact, his conscience may have been tormented by the foreboding pronouncement that he was about to make. Making the trip in his official capacity as head of the newly formed Freedman’s Bureau established by Congress in 1865 to protect the confiscated lands given to former slaves, his popularity among blacks was second only to Abraham Lincoln.
The confiscation of plantations given to former slaves breathed new life into the hopes of these humble souls. For one brief moment in time, newly freed slaves envisioned themselves as landowners taking their destinies into their own hands. Or by some strange design, they might actually gain power and govern among the great sea of humanity spanning the globe as a free and implacable people.
But on this cool day in October, an ominous declaration was visited upon them from a man, who ironically, was dressed in the uniform of a liberator. As Howard stepped from his boat on to the dry earth, he headed for the small church located near the shore.
About 2000 freed slaves had gathered there after receiving prior notice of his arrival. He walked into the church to greet the sea of black faces awaiting his arrival like the arch angel Gabriel. He positioned himself so that his voice would expand to every ear in every corner of the church.
As he began to speak, a pregnant pause gripped his somber, military demeanor as he pushed the following words from his mouth:
“I have been sent by the President to tell you that your old masters have been pardoned and that their plantations have been given back to them……….”
While many looked on in sheer disbelief, Howard’s final proclamation hit like a thunderclap from dark grey skies when he asked the former slaves to: “lay aside your bitter feelings and go to your former masters and be reconciled to them and they will pay you wages to work.”
These words elicited cataclysmic peroxisomes of wailing from the deepest regions of the black soul. If there was ever an origin for the blues, this was it. What these American Descendants of Former Slaves could not have known was that they had been brutally betrayed 6 months before at Appomatox.
The terms of Confederate surrender entailed the full pardon of Confederate soldiers who were essentially, war criminals under the highest law of the land: The U.S. Constitution. Concurrent with this pardon was the subsequent murder of Abraham Lincoln and the new President’s (Andrew Johnson) re-institution of White Home Rule.
These actions amounted to an extensive reparations policy given to the Confederate South for a crime punishable by death: Treason. The government also went as far as to issue pensions to the descendants of Confederate Soldiers starting in the 1930s’ (over half a century after the war) until the present.
So let’s run it back. By the stroke of a pen, the government initiated a policy that not only returned confiscated lands to traitors, but it also enabled a system of agrarian feudalism (share cropping) that economically and socially reshackled the trajectory of the hopes and dreams of millions of newly freed slaves. It was probably this system that allowed the South to quickly recover from the aftermath of the Civil War.
The Department of Veteran Affairs recently confirmed that it is still paying pensions to the last surviving descendants of Confederate Veterans. None of these descendants were plantation owners, slave holders, or even Confederate Soldiers.
This flies in the face of all of the objections in favor of reparations for Black Americans. How do we determine who gets it? Should we just give them a check? You weren’t in slavery! That was over 400 years ago! Was it really?
In his article A Case for Reparations, Ta- Nahesi Coates, the brilliant writer and columnist for Atlantic Magazine, connects a continuous policy of white theft of black wealth through structural policies that maintain a long chain of black subjugation to white authority.
Like the event described above, it too involves a horrendously epic transfer of land and wealth from black hands into the pockets and possessions of lecherously thirsty white thieves.
One such case was the case of Clyde Ross. Ross was a child of the Mississippi Delta. Coming of age in the brutal, and pernicious culture of the share cropping system, Ross, like the runaway slaves of old, joined the 20th century underground railroad of Black Americans leaving the violent dalit-like caste system of the American South, for what he thought would be an oasis of freedom up nawth!
What he discovered is that while he didn’t have to avert his eyes away from a random white man while walking down the street, or could not be subject to the sporadic violence of psychopathic white bezerkers, he like many other blacks before him and since, found himself entangled in a nest of lawless vipers whose venom killed the aspirations of those stary eyed souls who wanted the elusive miracle of the American Dream.
After he arrived in Chicago, Ross finally bought a home in 1961. Maybe not quite bought, but more accurately rented to own a home on “contract.” Under this system, his payments were made to the seller, not the bank. There was no signed mortgage note. According to Coates’ article, Ross bought his house for $27,500. The seller was a middleman who bought the home for $12,000 six months before selling it to Ross.
Unlike a normal mortgage, the buyer’s interest in the home was not recorded and the seller kept the deed, until the contract was paid in full. There is no equity, and if he missed a single payment, he would immediately forfeit his $1,000 down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself.
How could such an unscrupulous arrangement exist? It was the result of what economists call an externality. (the un-intended consequences of an economic policy action on a third party) What economic policy you may ask? The 1934 creation of the Federal Housing Authority.
An agency created under the Roosevelt Administration, its purpose was to stabilize private mortgages by protecting the public against the nefarious practices of predatory lending by the banks and mortgage companies.
In short, the FHA insured private mortgage loans through its investments, which caused a drop in interest rates and reduced the down payment required to buy a home. But these insured mortgages seemed to have eyes because they were not available to Americans with a darker hue.
The FHA created a red-lined mapping system that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, green areas, rated “A,” indicated neighborhoods that were racially homogeneous (all white). These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insured mortgages. While black neighborhoods bitten with the venomous “D” designation were usually considered ineligible for FHA insured mortgages.
It was this paralyzing toxin that left Black Americans in the sprawling metropolises of the urban north, prone to the approaching pack of hyenas who peddled the usurious home ownership contracts in these once integrated neighborhoods where Clyde Ross called home.
Locked out of the greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history, African Americans who desired and were able to afford home ownership found themselves consigned to central-city communities where their investments were affected by the “self-fulfilling prophecies” of the FHA appraisers: cut off from sources of new investment[,] their homes and communities deteriorated and lost value in comparison to those homes and communities that FHA appraisers deemed desirable.
Coates’ article ties government practices of white expropriation of black land, labor and wealth from the time of Gen. Howard’s ghastly proclamation in Edisto to Melvin Oliver’s empirical studies in 1995. While not under the context of post slavery reconstruction, the article reveals a monstrous pattern of white usurpation of black wealth enforced and fully sanctioned by the State–Usurpations that did not conclude with the Union Victory at Appomatox on April 9, 1865, nor terminate after the ratification of the 13th & 14th Amendments in 1865, and 1868 respectively.
The point? These practices were never terminated. They simply changed form and continued right on into the later half of the 20th century. Thus, one cannot help but marvel at the perverse irony of how the country can be completely repulsed at the idea of paying reparations to the descendants of victims of multiple inhumane schemes which kept the country together; but dutifully pay pensions to the descendants of a treasonous conspiracy that threatened to tear it apart. A conspiracy for which they were more than compensated for over 150 years ago.
Balzac once said that behind every great fortune is a crime. Perhaps it is because the culprits are never required to pay restitution to their victims.
TONY MACEO is a senior blogger at the Negromanosphere. SUPPORT BY PAYPAL at Wayofstrategy44@gmail.com or on Patreon @Powerofstrategies. TILL NEXT TIME I’LL HOLLA!