This Might Make You Cancel Your Trip to Hilton Head

Mville Homes/Samuel A. Cooley /Wikimedia/Public Domain


Pitched as a “humanitarian” effort to prepare formerly enslaved Blacks for inclusion as free citizens in America, the Port Royal Experiment is a historical example of why Black people have difficulty trusting any form of government handouts and shows the fragility of public policy.

In 1862, the Union Army invaded the Sea Islands of South Carolina (now called Hilton Head). Then, all the plantation owners abandoned their land leaving behind nearly 10,000 enslaved Blacks.

This came as a complete surprise to the Union’s troops and they initially had no idea what to do with these people.

While not legally free, they were considered contraband and became property of the government, working as field hands earning $1 for every 400 pounds of cotton harvested.

The formerly enslaved people lived amongst the Union troops for several months, but hostility and animosity between the two groups ultimately led to the creation of the Port Royal Experiment.

The U.S. government decided that the remaining Blacks on the island would be allowed to buy and run the abandoned plantations as well as develop schools and hospitals. Abraham Lincoln even enacted a policy that would split up to 40,000 acres of plantation land among families strictly of African descent.

Dozens of missionary teachers, doctors, and ministers volunteered to help with the experiment. With their help, the new land-owning Blacks founded Mitchelville which would become the first of many all-Black communities in the U.S.

This occurred four years prior to the founding of the historic town Eatonville in Florida, which was the first incorporated all-Black town.

Everything was going great until Lincoln died and noted racist Andrew Johnson became President. Johnson vowed to restore all the land that had been given to Blacks back to its previous white owners.

Johnson did not believe that Blacks should be compensated for slavery with land ownership and instead shifted the focus to voting rights.

This history shows that what is given in one administration can easily be revoked by the next when politicians are not outrightly looking out for our community’s best interests.

Too often, public policies have swept the rug from under our feet and left us displaced. Our battle doesn't end once someone who seems to be on our side gets in office. 

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