Date of Completion
History & Political Science
John Richard Duke, Ph.D.
When slavery ended at the close of the Civil War, there was no universal answer for where former slaves were to live. The type and quality of freedom Black Southerners would experience during Reconstruction would be largely determined by where they lived. Many freedpeople and Republicans desired for widespread Black land ownership across the South. “Forty acres and a mule” was a common phrase that spread throughout the South and represented the hope that the United States government would ensure that all former slaves would be given land to own and live on. The Freedmen’s Bureau, which was created under President Abraham Lincoln just a month before his assassination, was the federal agency that oversaw the prospect of Black land ownership most prominently and directly. While the agency operated throughout the former Confederacy, its operations in Arkansas have been uniquely overlooked as compared to its work in other states. After operating in Arkansas from 1865-1868, the results from the Freedmen’s Bureau’s effort to secure widespread Black land ownership were mixed. In the conduct of the Freedmen’s Bureau concerning Black land ownership in Arkansas, there are three major developments to consider: President Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty Policy, the Southern Homestead Act of 1866, and the emergence of the sharecropping labor arrangement. In the end, most Black Arkansans did not obtain land ownership during this time period. However, there were limited successes as well, particularly due to the Southern Homestead Act. In the story of the Freedmen’s Bureau and Black land ownership in Arkansas, one sees exactly how early ambitious plans for Reconstruction failed to actualize. The immediate consequence of this failure was continued discrimination and oppression of African Americans in Arkansas. This paper tells a brief, often overlooked part of this larger story.
Johnson, Eric, ""Freedmen not Freemen": The Freedmen's Bureau and Black Land Ownership in Arkansas" (2022). Honors Theses. 14.