November 3, 2017 - Vol. 1, Issue 9
The Trials and Triumphs of Black Land Ownership:
"Forty Acres and a Mule" 12
Above: Two women reading the “Sharecroppers' Voice” during an outdoor Southern Tenant Farmers' Union meeting in 1937. 13

Bishop John Hurst Adams
Irma Daniels
Irma Josephine Barber
Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr.
“Forty acres and a mule,” was the famous hollow vow of Union Army General William T. Sherman’s Field Order No. 15, which promised recently freed slaves, “Emancipation from plantation labor, white domination, and cotton, the ‘slave crop’,” notes Paul S. Boyer et al. in The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People, Concise. Boyer further observed that, “Large-scale land reform never occurred. A few slaves did obtain land, with the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau or sometimes by pooling resources. About four thousand blacks settled on homesteads under the law,” but “ by the end of Reconstruction, only a small minority of former slaves in each state owned working farms.” 1

However, those African American families in the Jim Crow South lucky or tenacious enough to secure property often faced threats of institutional or violent land dispossession by whites. Chicago city government employee and seamstress, Irma Josephine Barber, remembers how white men in post-Reconstruction era Mississippi threatened to take her paternal grandmother’s land away: “These two white men went over to visit my father’s mother--her name was Julia. And she of course looked white--they said, ‘Now we’ll have to go and see your son that this land is left to.’ And when they went over to my mother and saw that my mother was brown skin, black--and all the children, they wanted to see all the children. And they said, ‘Well, we’ll have to wait until this youngest one is eighteen.’ So they assumed that the son was white, the same as she. And then they looked and they saw the youngest one was about three. And they said, ‘Well, we’ll have to wait till she’s eighteen before they could claim the land’” 2 [Irma Josephine Barber, THMDA 2.6.1].

Educator and HistoryMaker Irma Daniels recalls the struggles of her maternal ancestors to retain their land, the Smith Settlement, in Gibsland, Louisiana, “Well, my grandmother was Pearl Smith Hortman and her family had 225 acres of land that her father bought. We heard stories all the time of how they tried to take that land away. It was very tough to hang on to; they would burn the cotton gin, they would burn the crop, trying to force them off the land so they wouldn't have money for the taxes. And my grandmother would say they ate biscuits and sopped syrup (laughter) and things like that. They only had meat on Sunday just so they could save money. I mean, it was very hard for them, my great-grandfather and his, I think it was like fourteen of them. And they really had to like fight off people who would try to come on the land and run them off, but they just refused. They couldn't get loans, they couldn't sell their crop, people were just trying to make it so hard for them but they continued to hold on to this land. As a matter of fact, they still have it today.” 3 [Irma Daniels, THMDA 1.1.4].
Daniels recalls subsequent attempts by violent whites to dispossess her family’s property, as remembered by her maternal great-aunt, “They were sitting one night in the house and men rode through on horses, her dad had been warned though that they were coming and he had left but they were coming to kill him and they all hid and they set the place on fire and so they had to get in the wagon and just leave in the middle of the night. To hear her say it like it happened yesterday, the memories she had of the color of the horses, what the men had on, she was just so vivid how afraid she was, and hiding under the beds and just being so fearful when the fire started and having to get in the wagon and ride away” 4 [Irma Daniels, THMDA 1.1.5]. Robin D.G. Kelley et al. in To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans acknowledges that the practice of “whitecapping” or white violence was commonly perpetrated against black land owners: “Successful black farmers were the most likely target of this kind of eviction because of the common assumption among whites that the success of some blacks might unleash unrealistic (and dangerous) aspirations among the local black population.” 5

HistoryMaker Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes in The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present , whites who were threatened by successful blacks in the Jim Crow South sought to “Reintroduce slave like economic exploitation and white social, political, and economic hegemony, aided and abetted by white terrorism.” 6 Former college president, A.M.E. Bishop and HistoryMaker John Hurst Adams recalls how white terrorism attempted to frighten his father, Eugene Avery Adams, Sr., off of their family land in Cokesbury, South Carolina: “They came to interrupt my father’s Watch Meeting to tell him that the Ku Klux Klan were burning a cross on our front lawn. So we left and went home to protect our property. We came in through a neighbor’s backyard into the back of our house, and my father had a shotgun. And he took it and went to his front door and said to the folks burning the cross, ‘If you cross, if you come up my steps, I’m going to shoot you.’ And they didn’t, fortunately” 7 [Bishop John Hurst Adams, THMDA 1.2.4]. Additionally, Adams remembers that land ownership was kept within the black community through the pooling of resources: “But in this particular community, with rare exception, the black farmers were landowners as well. This was not the general case in South Carolina. This was sort of a niche place. And my grandfather Columbus Nash, my mother’s father, had a bad year and was about to lose the farm. And my father and some of the other people got together and pooled their resources to buy it, so that it could stay in the hands of black people. That farm which my father engineered the purchase of from my grandfather is still owned by us. And the farmland of most of those landowners, the land is still owned by their children” 8 [Bishop John Hurst Adams, THMDA 1.1.7].   This practice was also not uncommon, as Gates states: “Traversing this legal and financial maze yet unwilling to trust their futures and fortunes to the unreliable dispositions of Southern whites, African Americans were compelled to develop their own mutual assistance and professional organizations.”

In Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons, authors Justine M. Williams and Eric Holt-Gimenez note that reasons for the decline in black farm ownership at the end of the Jim Crow era was not merely the result of violent white dispossession, but an array of converging factors: “Institutional discrimination; anti-black terrorism; domination of the industrial agricultural paradigm; European cultural hegemony; structural dispossession processes and systems; lack of access to affordable and trustworthy legal serves; and massive rural-to-urban migration,” 9 which ensured that only a few African Americans families ever capitalized on General Sherman’s promise.
"Hey, baby Fats!"
This past week, on October 24, 2017, New Orleans and the world lost a musical icon with the passing of Fats Domino . Born in 1928 to a musical family, Domino spoke Creole French before he spoke English. He learned to play piano and dropped out of school to start performing in bars and music clubs. It was there that he met his longtime producer and collaborator, Dave Bartholomew. Together the pair produced such hits as “Aint That A Shame,” “Blueberry Hill,” and “Whole Lotta Loving.” Domino’s distinctive style of playing led him to become one of the defining pioneers of rock and roll. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and he was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the following year. But despite gaining worldwide prominence, Domino loved nothing more than spending time in New Orleans. Several HistoryMakers spoke of meeting the music legend at Mule’s Bar and Restaurant, including HistoryMaker Jack Whitten , who spent a little time with Domino in New Orleans. Whitten had just made state news for his participation in a nonviolent protest that resulted in the shutdown of Southern University. “Best thing happened to me hanging out in New Orleans, I was still playing my horn a little bit then. We were hanging out one night at a restaurant bar and we didn't know it but Fats Domino was in the bar with some people. And the bartender told him that--that's those kids who was on TV. 'Cause all the TV and all the newspapers had it. Fats Domino came over to us, and he said, ‘I want you boys to know that we're mighty proud of you, what you did.’ He said, ‘Why don't you all come over here and join us?’ So he invited us over to his table. Food, drinks, I hung out with Fats Domino for two days in New Orleans.… Boy when you walked out with Fats Domino on the scene, and what I learned down there at that time, white and black people loved him. You would go down the street with Fats in that car and people would yell, ‘Hey, baby Fats!’ It was a hell of an experience. They loved him down there. So I stayed down there for a few days" 10 [Jack Whitten, THMDA 1.3.8].
This week, 15 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
William Akins

Academic administrator William Akins (1932 - 2017 ) was the founding principal of the integrated L.C. Anderson High School, and an administrator in the Austin Independent School District. In 2000, Akins High School was named in his honor.
Harry Johns

Accountant and academic administrator Harry Johns (1921 - ) served in numerous administrative positions at Central State University, including university controller, vice president of fiscal affairs, director of planning and dean of the college of business.

LaVerne Sci

Historic site manager LaVerne Sci (1940 - ) was the historic site manager of the Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton, Ohio. She was also an educator in North Carolina and Illinois.
Ralph Bernard Everett

Nonprofit chief executive, administrative lawyer, and presidential advisor Ralph Bernard Everett (1951 - ) was the President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. He was lead counsel to the U.S. Senate commerce committee and a parliamentarian at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
The Honorable Gloria Travis Tanner

State senator The Honorable Gloria Travis Tanner (1934 - ) was the first black woman to serve as a Colorado state senator. She also served as the Colorado House of Representatives Minority Caucus leader, and was the second African American to be elected to a leadership position in the Colorado House of Representatives.
Amy S. Hilliard

Corporate chief executive and marketing executive Amy S. Hilliard (1952 - ) was the founder and CEO of the Comfort Cake Company. She worked in multicultural marketing for the Pillsbury Company, The Gillette Company and L'Oreal, and founded a marketing firm called The Hilliard Group, Inc.
Larry Huggins

Construction entrepreneur Larry Huggins (1950 - ) owns Riteway Construction Company founded in Chicago, Illinois. Ritway Construction Company was contracted to re-develop the Ida B. Well Housing Projects.
Claude Walton

Discus thrower Claude Walton (1913 - 2014 ) was the first All-American athlete at the University of Colorado, twice winning the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title. Seventy-five years after he attended the University of Colorado, alumni and faculty mounted a successful campaign to get him an honorary degree and entry to the university’s Hall of Fame.
David Lattin

Corporate foundation executive and basketball player David Lattin (1943 - ) was part of the historic Texas Western College team that was the first to start an all-black lineup at the NCAA championship. He went on to play for professional teams like the Phoenix Suns and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Hilary Shelton

Civic leader Hilary Shelton (1958 - ) was the head of the NAACP Washington Bureau. He helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Violence Against Women Act. He also served as the United Negro College Fund's federal liaison, and as the federal policy director for the United Methodist Church’s social justice agency, the General Board of Church and Society.
Dorie Ladner

Civil rights activist and city social service worker Dorie Ladner (1942 - ) was a founding member of the Council of Federated Organizations, and directed the SNCC voter registration project in Natchez, Mississippi. She was also a clinical social worker in Washington, D.C.
Vernell Lillie

Stage director Vernell Lillie (1931 - ) was founder and artistic director of Kuntu Repertory Theatre. She won the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Outstanding Award for Women in the Arts from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Thaddeus Mosley

Sculptor Thaddeus Mosley (1926 - ) was commissioned by Pittsburgh cultural institutions like the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the Susquehanna Museum and the Cue Art Foundation Gallery.

Howard Simmons

Commercial photographer Howard Simmons (1943 - ) was a news photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times and Ebony magazine, who captured legends like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Brown.

Faithe A. Thomas-Colas

Publisher Faithe A. Thomas-Colas (1961 - ) was the publisher of the Milwaukee Courier, a radio show panelist and television co-host, and the community affairs director of The Salvation Army of Greater Milwaukee.
1.     Paul S. Boyer, Clifford E. Clark, Sandra Hawley, The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People, Concise Cengage Learning. December 31, 2008.
2.     Irma Josephine Barber (The HistoryMakers A2003.051), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 26, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 2, tape 6, story 1, Irma Josephine Barber recalls an issue with family land in Mississippi during her childhood
3.     Irma Daniels (The HistoryMakers A2007.329), interviewed by Larry Crowe, November 26, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 4, Irma Daniels describes the Smith Settlement in Gibsland, Louisiana
4.     Irma Daniels (The HistoryMakers A2007.329), interviewed by Larry Crowe, November 26, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 5, Irma Daniels talks about the history of African American dispossession, pt. 1
5.     Robin D.G. Kelley, Earl Lewis, To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans. Oxford University Press, 2000.
6.     Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present Oxford University Press, 1 edition. April 18, 2012.
7.    Bishop John Hurst Adams (The HistoryMakers A2005.249), interviewed by Ed Anderson, November 29, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, Bishop John Hurst Adams recalls his father's confrontation of the Ku Klux Klan
8.     Bishop John Hurst Adams (The HistoryMakers A2005.249), interviewed by Ed Anderson, November 29, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 7, Bishop John Hurst Adams describes his family's land ownership
9.     Justine M. Williams, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons Food First Books, June 22, 2017.
10.  Jack Whitten (The HistoryMakers A2016.033), interviewed by Harriette Cole, October 3, 2016, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 8, Jack Whitten remembers meeting Fats Domino in New Orleans, Louisiana
11. Fats Domino. Photo Credit can be found:
12. 1907, Detroit Publishing Company. Savannah, Georgia. Photo credit: <a href=""></a>
13. Reading the “Sharecroppers' Voice” during an outdoor Southern Tenant Farmers' Union meeting in 1937. Image: Louise Boyle, Kheel Center. Can be found:

Spot an error in The HistoryMakers Digital Archive ? We want to fix it! Send a brief description of the error to:
We're here to help! Please direct questions about The HistoryMakers Digital Archive to:
Browse our collection at: