The Truth About Blacks in The South, 1895
“Set Free for Freedom”
Destiny A. Prezzato
This paper explores the truth about life in the South after the Civil War. It is written as a letter from a black farmers wife, Ruth Turner, to her sister, Ita, who is residing in the Northern state of Pennsylvania where the life of African-Americans on a small spectrum is “better.” The letter takes place on a farm in rural, Mississippi in 1895. Ruth was raised as a slave until she was set free after the Civil War. Shortly, after her release, she marries her childhood love- Samuel Turner. Samuel is recruited to join the Union Army, fighting alongside white American soldiers in the Civil War. After the war is over, life as “supposed” free blacks in the South does not add up to what they dreamed it would be as segregation is still largely implemented. Samuel agrees to become a sharecropper on a farmland in hopes of raising his children in “The Land of the Free”- the freedom he fought for. Life as sharecroppers is testing for the young family and Ruth becomes an advocate for black civil rights. The letter ends with Ruth and her family migrating to the North to join her sister as they escape the disguised “re-enslavement” of black sharecroppers and the dangerous consequences of demanding equal rights, post- Civil War. Ruth Turner is an inspiring woman, determined to obtain a truly free life for her children because they were indeed “Set Free for Freedom.”
My beloved Ita,
Thank you so much for taking in Cami and Aunna as Samuel and I prepare to participate in the next movements of fighting for black rights. It is much too dangerous for them to be here in Mississippi. I pray that they are behaving well and paying attention as you teach them the work of women. I desire for them to be wives and mothers one day but with the same rights as the average white American. To fulfill their dreams- whatever those might be.
Keep us in your prayers as the segregation here is barely any different than when we were slaves. Joseph was attacked for asking a white woman for directions last Saturday. The white men beat him determinedly. It is not safe for him to be here either, but Samuel and I need all the help we can get on the farm as the Landowners have made it next to impossible to pay off our debt (Jong, G. de.)/ The schools here are atrocious for blacks. I fear that Joseph will not get the college education he so deserves. He wants to become a doctor. Both Samuel and Joseph are planning to demand the right to cast a presidential vote at the November 6TH, 1896 election. I am so afraid for their safety as lynchings have peaked to over 100 black deaths per year (Feimster, C. N.).
I remember when Samuel was recruited to join the Union Army and how difficult it was for me to continue laboring relentlessly in the fields while the love of my life was forced to fight in a war that dishonored him as a black man. I cannot tolerate the thought of one of my boys being at the hands of white men during this election and the possibility of their being the next victims of those brutal and dehumanizing lynching’s (Weiner, M. F.). Speaking of the War, Peggy, our childhood friend is still trying to receive her rightful pension for the death of her husband during the war. Though, the 1870 Mississippi constitution clearly states that marriage entered during slavery is validated (Weiner, M. F.) Keep her and her children in your prayers.
I know that this upcoming election is a crucial step in taking black history a step farther. We have come from being born as slaves under the mercy of our masters to being set free at the close of the Civil War in 1865, to being sharecroppers and standing beside Ida Barnett during the “Washerwomen strike of 1881.” That was the most terrifying and most rewarding experiences of my life. Sadly, it seems as the nation has already forgotten the impact of that strike as landowners, especially in the South has taken African-Americans for granted. They forget that we are vital to their political economy in the New South and abusing our services is sure to drive us out because we were set free for FREEDOM! (Carter, J). Not to be enslaved again under a different mask. They have manipulated our labor and have underhandedly recaptured us into a different form of bondage- we will not have it! Even though, driving us out is exactly what they want as it would decrease the threat of black political authority (Jong, G. de.).
Even so, the “Washerwomen strike” was a moment in history that now gives me the hope I have for my boy’s participation in the demand for voting rights this next year (Hunter, T. W.). Mama and Papa were dedicated to their faith and to fighting against politics for the rights of black men. Joseph and I plan to honor their dedication by continuing in their work towards a brighter and safer future. They reared us in the understanding of the interconnection between “life and death, politics and religion, community, self, and God” and we long to rear our children in the same way by bringing about a new legacy for them to pass on (Schechter, P. A). So, the men are going to vote, and I will be on my knees in praying. Simultaneously, please prepare for our arrival as we will have to disappear under the light of the moon, should this election turn against our movement and become too much of a threat to our lives. As sharecroppers who owe our landlord a tremendous debt, moonlight is our only avenue out of our bondage. Even if the election goes in our favor, Samuel still desires to migrate West to the lands of agricultural prosperity. Though we will still have to depart with the moon as our guide if we wish to escape our debt as sharecroppers.
Once, we are united with you and the girls, we will send a letter to our good friend in the East as the farming lands are said to be promising for starting over as true, free African Americans. The Homestead Act states that Samuel can legally claim land and after five years of plowing and improving the health of the land – we can file to legally purchase the land as our own- under his name of course, as women have not gained that right yet- but soon, my sister-soon (Conquering the West). This is our dream. To live freely on land that cherishes the integrity of our hands and repays us agricultural prosperity. We will be free indeed and under the yoke of slavery no more- ever again!