Forty Acres, A Mule, and Black Ministers

Posted on August 31, 2017 at 5:35 PM

I’ve spent long hours contemplating the health of African Americans. I’ve spent even longer hours contemplating the systematic racism that has now manifested in the form of food. Communities of color, particularly those living in inner city and urban neighborhoods find it difficult, if not impossible, to access fresh food on a regular basis. Full service grocery stores, offering organic and/or locally sourced produce, or farmer’s markets are rarely spotted in our communities. However, with minimal effort, you can find highly processed foods, foods high in carcinogens, fats, and sugars and fast food chains offering a wide variety of pseudo foods for a very reasonable price. As a result, healthy food options have been reduced to dreams our ancestors had for us. And nevermind the argument that inner city residents wouldn’t purchase healthy foods options if they were made readily available. Data shows most inner city residents shop at stores closest to them because of many economic barriers including the lack of transportation.


After the civil war, twenty African American leaders, a group of Black ministers in Savannah, Georgia, convened with General William T.Sherman to discuss the best way for Blacks to secure and enjoy their newfound freedom. In all of their infinite and spiritual wisdom, the clergy agreed the best way would be land ownership. The ownership of land offered a chance to be economically self-sufficient, build and pass on wealth, and provide a means to feed their families.


Considering that a diet rich in fresh produce can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent many cancers, reverse digestive problems, and regulate blood sugar levels, it makes sense that 40 acres and a mule had the strong possibility of eliminating the high rates of disease that inflict African Americans. Because we don’t have access to or proper education about healthy eating, diabetes is 60% more common in Black Americans than White Americans. African Americans are 3 times more likely to die of asthma than White Americans. Strokes kill 4 times more 35-54 year old Black Americans than White Americans. Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life with more than 45% of Black women aged 20 and older having high blood pressure, and Black men have a 40% higher cancer death rate than white men.


It is common knowledge that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables that represent the colors of the rainbow give our bodies the mix of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals we need to prevent, treat, and reverse disease. 40 acres and a mule would do that. Wouldn’t it? Of course it would. So, the question becomes how much land does it take to feed one person a steady healthy diet for one year? The answer, in it’s closest approximate, is one acre. The 40 acres of tillable land as written in Special Field Order 15, indeed would have provided economic sustainability, provided the foods need to prevent disease, and create generational wealth.


Once Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his successor, Andrew Johnson overturned the order and returned the land back to the confederates who owned it before it was confiscated during the Civil War. The term, 40 acres and a mule, has become a mere euphemism for Black liberation, social inequality, political injustice, and the name for Spike Lee’s production company. Most Blacks have made resolve with the fact that we will never get our 40 acres and a mule. Perhaps it’s time to mobilize a contemporary group of Black ministers who will address the financial, and health disparities born of broken promises, and constitutional revisions.



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