African Americans and The Homestead Act of 1862

I sometimes find myself at a loss. You see, here’s my problem. In my writing, I demand the truth. I am very careful with my sources and only use ones that I believe to be truthful and accurate. I do not share or post anything just because it says what I want to hear or read.

When a meme was posted to Facebook that suggested that The Homestead Act was in effect for 150 years and was for whites only I just had to research it. Many were getting mad and calling it 150 years of white privilege and other more colorful things.

The first paragraph of the Homestead Act of 1862 is as follows:

“That any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies, shall… be entitled to enter one quarter-section or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands.”  

When the Homestead Act went into effect in 1863 blacks were not citizens and were not allowed to become citizens until 1866.

“Although individual African Americans had moved to the west throughout the early decades of the 19th century, it was in the years following the end of the civil war and the end of Reconstruction that thousands of African Americans migrated to western regions in an attempt to move away from the socio-economic and political oppression of the south. Encouraged by the advertisement of a bountiful land, African Americans migrated to Kansas and neighboring states, forming the movement known as Exodusters. They acquired land, developed homesteads, and started a number of all-black towns mainly in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. By the turn of the century, 765,000 African Americans lived in the West, focusing on building towns and agricultural colonies as collective enterprises in a project of racial uplift. Many black towns, including Nicodemus, soon began to decline as a result of dry conditions and the unpredictability of rainfall. The fate of many was sealed when the towns were bypassed by the railroad and dwellers started moving to cities.”

I don’t doubt that many African Americans were denied legal rights under the Homestead Act but it wasn’t the act that discriminated against them, it was the white local officials that were in charge.

I am well aware of white privilege, having been a recipient of it all my life. I have never been refused service in a restaurant because of the color of my skin or been passed over for promotion because of the color of my skin or been beaten or shot by a cop at a routine traffic stop. To my shame, I realize that whites have more advantages than minorities. Do I know how it feels? NO, there’s no way I could, but I understand how angry minorities must feel. This is not just my shame, this is America’s shame. A country founded on the premise that “all men are created equal” (as Abraham Lincoln once so eloquently stated) unless they are black or Mexican or Chinese or native American or Irish or women and now Muslim. Shame on us.

Author: Michael Hoyt

Worked as a conductor on the Railroad until 1988, worked as a machinist until 2007 and then retired. Earned a creative writing certificate from Rio Salado Community College in 2014. Became concerned when GW Bush was elected, even more, concerned when Republicans began trying to block everything Obama tried to do and now totally p**sed off at what trump and the Republicans are trying to do to our country. I started my own blog in 2009 and now write for The Blue Route.