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An Ex-Slave Protests Eviction from "the Promised Land"

In the speech below, Bayley Wyat, an ex-slave, protests the eviction of blacks from confiscated plantations in Virginia in 1866. Like so many other nineteenth-century Americans, white and black, freed people wanted to work the land as self-sufficient farmers. Congress raised expectations of landownership among ex-slaves when it passed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill, which contained a land provision stating that the Bureau would redistribute lands abandoned by Confederate planters by leasing forty-acre tracts to freedmen and 'loyal white refugees.' But the bill did not empower the Freedmen's Bureau to conduct large-scale confiscation. Rather than distribute land it didn't have, Bureau agents persuaded reluctant freedmen to sign labor contracts with ex-slaveholders. President Johnson further dashed the hopes of freedmen for land. Less than two months after the war ended, he issued a sweeping amnesty and began issuing individual pardons granting planters and Confederate leaders title to lands abandoned or confiscated during the war.

We has a right to the land here we are located. For why? I tell you. Our wives, our children, our husbands, have been sold over and over again to purchase the lands we now locate upon; for that reason we have a divine right to the land…Dey told us dese lands was 'fiscated from the Rebs, who was fightin' de United States to keep us in slavery and to destroy the Government. De Yankee officers say to us: "Now, dear friends, colored men, come and go with us; we will gain de victory, and by de proclamation of our President you have your freedom, and you shall have the 'fiscated lands." And now we feels disappointed dat dey has not kept deir promise. O educated men! men of principle, men of honor, as we once considered you was! Now we don't seem to know what to consider, for de great confidence we had seems to be shaken, for now we has orders to leave dese lands by the Superintender of the Bureau.….And then didn't we clear the land and raise the crops of corn, of cotton, of tobacco, of rice, of sugar, of everything? And then didn't large cities in the North grow up on the cotton and the sugars and the rice that we made!...I say they have grown rich, and my people are poor.

Source | Bayley Wyat, A Freedman's speech. Philadelphia: Published by Friends' association of Philadelphia and its vicinity for the relief of colored freedmen, circa 1866, Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/rbpe.1590140b.
Creator | Bayley Wyat
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Bayley Wyat, “An Ex-Slave Protests Eviction from "the Promised Land",” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 20, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1248.

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