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by Mumia Abu-Jamal Saturday, Aug. 11, 2001 at 8:20 PM

"They got mad at us because we was free and they let us go without a crumb of anything and without a penny and nothing but what we had on our backs .... We had a hard time then and I've been having a hard time ever since." -- Frank Fikes, ex-slave [Genovese, E.D., Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), p. 99]

By Mumia Abu-Jamal
Column Written 8/5/01
All Rights Reserved

"They got mad at us because we was free
and they let us go without a crumb of anything
and without a penny and nothing but what we
had on our backs .... We had a hard time then
and I've been having a hard time ever since."
-- Frank Fikes, ex-slave
[Genovese, E.D., Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), p. 99]

The plaintive voice of Frank Fikes could've
been echoed millions of times in the brutal aftermath
of the U.S. Civil War, and would last (with the brief,
fleeting exception of the Reconstruction period) for
over a century longer.

What a cruel "freedom" awaited those four
millions who witnessed the victory of the Union over
the Confederacy. On January 16, 1865, two years
after black troops restored Union hopes, Union General
William Tecumsah Sherman would issue Special
Field Order No. 15, which set aside the Sea Islands
and the low country rice coastlands south of
Charleston, for some 30 miles inland, for the
exclusive settlement of blacks. Each family would
receive forty acres of fertile land, and the Union
army would loan several mules.

In March, 1865, Congress would pass a
law allowing "every male citizen, refugee or freedman,"
[...] "not more than forty acres of land."

By the end of the year, with the War won,
another General, Oliver Otis Howard, would tell
some 40,000 Blacks that they could not keep
the lands allotted to them by Sherman. With
President Abraham Lincoln dead by April, 1865,
the next President, Andrew Johnson, would veto
the "forty acre" law passed by Congress, and the
road to betrayal was chosen. Johnson would
order the return of plantations to the former
owners of slaves and lands, if they pledged

Decades later, after over half a century
had passed, a former slave, Sally Dixon, would
remember, "We was told when we got freed
we was going to get forty acres of land and a
mule. 'Stead of that, we didn't get nothing."
[Kelley, R.D.G. & E. Lewis, eds., To Make
Our World Anew: A History of African
Americans (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000),

Today, over a century and a half
after the issuance of Special Field Order
No. 15, the words "forty acres and a mule"
evokes bitterness in Black hearts, for it
signals the loathsome betrayal of the Union
Army and the U.S. government of a people
held over 244 years in bondage. Here is the
long-buried roots of the reparations
movement, a movement bequeathed by
ancient ancestors, who were denied justice.

Needless to say, the notion of
reparations is a controversial one in a
society as Negrophobic as the United States.
Some, notably a well-known Jewish
conservative, have damned the notion of
reparations, claiming to base his objections
on, a.) The difficulty of identifying
descendants; b.) The passage of time;
c.) The relative well-being of U.S. Blacks,
and d.) The bad-feeling such an action would
evoke in whites who see this as "divisive."
He also questions who should be asked to
pay. The essential point he advances is
that the past is past.

What's wrong with such an argument?

To say a thing is difficult is not an
argument for it not to be done. It's a rather
lame excuse.

To argue that too much time has
passed is to damn those who did not do the
right thing at the right time; not an argument
against doing it now. Union General Sherman
and a Radical Republican Congress did the
right thing; General cum Freedman's Bureau
Commissioner Howard and President
Johnson didn't.

How can any self-respecting Jew
argue 'the past is past?'

If the biblical texts are any measure of
the Jewish past, how did they interact with
the nation that held them in bondage? The
book of Exodus 12:33-37 (KJV) gives us an
interesting insight:

33 And the Egyptians were urgent
upon the [Jewish] people, that they
might send them out of the land in
haste; for they said, We Be all
dead men.

34 And the people took their dough
before it was leavened, their
kneading-troughs being bound up
in their clothes upon their shoulders.

35 And the children of Israel did
according to the word of Moses;
and they borrowed of the Egyptians
jewels of silver, and jewels of gold,
and raiment:

36 And the Lord gave the people
favour in the sight of the Egyptians,
so that they lent unto them such
things as they required. And they
spoiled the Egyptians.

37 And the children of Israel journeyed
from Rameses to Succoth, about six
hundred thousand on foot that were
men, beside children. [The Bible]

Now, one question: Do you really believe the
Egyptians "lent" the Jews gold, silver, and
"such things as they required"? (If so, is there
any biblical record of the children of Israel
returning to Egypt to return what was "lent"?)

Is there any serious question that this was a
biblical warrant for reparations, of such a cost that
it "spoiled the Egyptians?" (Does anyone think this
was "divisive"?).

Did the Egyptians carry the Israelites from
their homes, beat them, torture them, deculturate
them, humiliate them and forbid them from learning
the ways, the names, the faiths of their fathers? Did
they shackle them and carry them across the burning
sands, splitting families and tribes, so that they
would slave for their Egyptian captors?

The Bible reports that the Jews entered
Egypt because Israel was facing famine (Gen. 42).
The Israelites sold their own brother into slavery,
but the Pharoah granted him rank, and privilege.
After the death of their father, Jacob, 70 relatives
entered Egypt, and lived splendidly there. Again,

1:7 And the children of Israel were
fruitful, and increased abundantly,
and multiplied, and waxed
exceedingly mighty; and the land
was filled with them.

And, as for the past, if it's not so important,
why then do Jews celebrate Passover, based on their
liberation story, some 5,000 years later - annually?

For some, the past is never past.

Years ago, a young Huey P. Newton and
Bobby Seale got together to write the 10 Point Program
of the Black Panther Party. The October 1966 B.P.P.
Platform and Program was broken down into two
parts: What We Want, and What We Believe. This
is one of them:

3. We want an end to the robbery by
the white man of our Black Community.

We believe that this racist government
has robbed us and now we are demanding the
overdue debt of forty acres and two mules.
Forty acres and two mules was promised 100
years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass
murder of black people. We will accept the
payment in currency which will be distributed
to our many communities. The Germans are
now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide
of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered
six million Jews. The American racist has
taken part in the slaughter of over fifty million
black people; therefore, we feel that this is a
modest demand that we make.

As ever, Huey P. Newton was ahead of his time.

This may be an idea that is now right on time.
2001 Mumia Abu-Jamal

This column may be reprinted and/or distributed by
electronic means, but only for non-commercial use, and
only with the inclusion of the following copyright

Text (c) copyright 2001 by Mumia Abu-Jamal. All rights
reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Get Mumia's columns by email: http://www.MumiaBook.com

Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of three books: 'Live
from Death Row', 'Death Blossoms', and 'All Things
Censored'. A new biography, 'On A Move: The Story of
Mumia Abu-Jamal', is available at www.MumiaBook.com

To communicate directly with Mumia write to him at:
Mumia Abu-Jamal AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370
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Anti Semitism? Maotzu Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2001 at 9:46 AM
Ad Hominem Level headed Friday, Aug. 17, 2001 at 8:51 AM
Reparations revealed as sibling rivalry Tom Tuesday, Jan. 03, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Reparations revealed as sibling rivalry Tom Tuesday, Jan. 03, 2012 at 12:56 PM
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