By: Chenjerai Kumanyika
November 22, 2017

One in a series of posts featuring writing, music, and podcasting by HILOBROW friend Chenjerai Kumanyika.

UNCIVIL is a history podcast, hosted by Chenjerai and journalist Jack Hitt, which goes back to the time our divisions turned into a war, and brings us stories left out of the official history. The episode featured here, “The Deed” is about: “A 19th century promise, and a 21st century betrayal. The past and present of 40 acres and a mule.”


Katie Brown, former slave on Sapelo Island, Georgia 1939

Transcript excerpt:

JACK: In April 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. And the new president, Andrew Johnson, tore up Sherman’s Special Order 15 and pardoned all the Confederate slave owners. Kate Masur again:

KATE: Once they had a pardon, they could go back and say, ‘Well I’m back, this is my land. And anybody who asserts they have a right to the land is nuts. Anything that happened here during the course of the war, distributing land land to freed people, all that stuff – none of that is valid anymore.’

JACK: And the military showed up, to make sure the the land was returned to its former owners, the same military that just months before had fought to free these black farmers.

CHENJERAI: This was the beginning of a hundred years of newly freed black people getting land and having it taken from them with violence. If it wasn’t the military, it was a mob. A professor named Ray Winbush put it “If you’re looking for stolen black land, just follow the lynching trail.”

At the turn of the century, black people owned 15 million acres of land. Today, it’s about a million.

CHENJERAI: Sapelo (Georgia) is one of the places where black people resisted. They forced the white former owners to sell them back some of their original 40 acre plots. And not long after that, a portion of one of those plots would pass to Netty’s grandmother. And that’s the land Nettye grew up on.

NETTYE: See now it was not that wide over there, that’s because of the marsh coming forth, land that’s washed away.

JACK: Families like Netty’s eventually built 28 little villages on the island — places called Hanging Bull, Moses Hammock, Chocolate, Bourbon, and Raccoon Bluff. Sapelo was an isolated self-sufficient Gullah island. That’s how things were when Nettye was born in 1935.

NETTYE: Shrimp boats would come into Sapelo. And they would blow their horns before they got to the edge, here, and the women would come with their pans, and they would give them all the shrimp they wanted.

CHENJERAI: For the moment it felt like the black farmers there had won. They’d fought for their freedom, and the right to own land, and held onto their 40 acres against President Johnson’s betrayal, the US military, and former slave owners.

But the farmers on Sapelo were about to face a new threat.


CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators