By: Donald V. Watkins
© Copyrighted and Published on November 22, 2019
A 124-Year-Long, Government-Sponsored Land Giveaway Program For Whites
From 1862 to 1986, the United States government ran a homestead program that gave 2,992,058 white settlers and European immigrants (both documented and undocumented) a minimum of 160 acres of land from the Mississippi River to the West coast of America, including the Alaskan territory. Authorized by the Homestead Act of 1862, this land giveaway program ended for all participating states in 1976 and ended for land awards in Alaska in 1986.
White recipients in the land giveaway program were recruited through a widespread, government-sponsored advertising campaign in newspapers in America and Europe. The land was awarded to applicants who promised to live on it and develop the land for five years. Title to the property vested at the end of this five-year period.
Claimants paid total filing fees of $18 and $1.25 per acre after six-months of residency. These below-market land acquisition rates essentially made the land a free gift to the recipients.
Congress passed additional laws in 1873 that allowed the government to award larger tracts of land to these white settlers and immigrants.
A lot of the land grants included property that had timber rights, mineral rights, and oil and gas reserves, all of which the government eventually released to the land owners through various legislative enactments.
In all, more than 270 million acres of valuable land -- about ten percent of the land area of the United States -- was given to white settlers and immigrants.
The Homestead Act of 1862 was a 124-year-long, government-sponsored, wealth transfer program for a particular class of people -- white settlers and immigrants. It was the longest running, race-based, affirmative action program in United States history. Ironically, some of the descendants of the beneficiaries of this affirmative action program for whites were the first ones to claim their status as the "victims" of "reverse discrimination" in the 1970s and 80s.
An estimated $10 trillion dollars (when measured in today's present value) was transferred to white homesteaders, essentially for free. This land giveaway program made thousands of millionaires in the agriculture, timber, mining of natural resources, and oil and gas industries.
In addition to the gift of free public land to these white program recipients, the government-built land grant colleges to teach these settlers how to farm. It provided them with county agents to further their expertise in farming and the commercialization of natural resources running with the land. It also gave them low-interest loans so that they could mechanize their farms. Then, it provided them billions of dollars in federal subsidies not to farm certain crops.
From the outset, blacks were not allowed to participate in the 1862 Homestead Act land giveaway program. The United States Supreme Court had already decided, on a 7-2 vote, in the 1857 Dred Scott case that blacks -- freed or slaves -- had no rights that white men were bound to respect. This holding included the right to own property.
The Unfulfilled Promise of 40 Acres for Freed Slaves
Union Army General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order No. 15, issued on January 16, 1865, set aside land for freed black slaves. With this Order, 400,000 acres of land described as "a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John's River in Florida, including Georgia's Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast" was to be reallocated to emancipated slaves in the South. Each slave family was entitled to 40 acres of land in this strip.
Abraham Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson, a Southern and sympathizer with the Confederate states, vetoed Order No. 15 in the Fall of 1865. With his veto, the land was returned to the very planters who declared war on the United States of America.
As a result, black slaves were never awarded the public lands that were promised to them by the United States Government. Instead, former slaves, for the most part, became sharecroppers on the lands they used to work as slaves.
For four centuries, property ownership has been the greatest source of wealth in the United States. Ten percent of the land area of the United States was given to white settlers and European immigrants, essentially for free, for a period of 124 years. The last component of the government's land giveaway program for whites just ended in 1986.
In contrast, the 400,000 acres was set aside for freed black slaves. The land allotment was 40 acres. This land was never given to them. As a result, blacks in the South and elsewhere languished in abject poverty for the next 100 years. This poverty was accompanied by widespread racial violence against blacks nationwide, rigidly enforced racial segregation, ingrained racial discrimination, and massive resistance to equal rights for blacks.
The next time you hear people say, "the black man ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps," please remind them of the white privilege embedded in these laws and historical events.