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Investigative series '40 Acres and a Lie' explores the history of a government program that gave formerly enslaved people land titles, only to take the land back

In "40 Acres and a Lie," a three-part series from Reveal and the Center for Public Integrity, reporters tell the history of an often-misunderstood government program that gave formerly enslaved people land titles, only to take the land back.
Chris Burnett
In "40 Acres and a Lie," a three-part series from Reveal and the Center for Public Integrity, reporters tell the history of an often-misunderstood government program that gave formerly enslaved people land titles, only to take the land back.

On the next Charlotte Talks, we take a deep dive into a recent investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity in collaboration with the public radio show Reveal and Mother Jones magazine.

The investigation focuses on how dozens of Black families recently learned that the federal government took the land of 1,250 enslaved people in Georgia and South Carolina right after the Civil War and denied them intergenerational wealth.

General Sherman set aside a 30-mile wide strip of Confederate plantations from Charleston, SC, to Jacksonville, FL, and redistributed it to formerly enslaved people.
Chris Burnett
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Federico Respini/Unsplash
General Sherman set aside a 30-mile-wide strip of Confederate plantations from Charleston, S.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., and redistributed it to formerly enslaved people.

Reporters at the Center for Public Integrity made this discovery by analyzing recently digitized records from the Reconstruction-era Freedmen's Bureau, and identified 1,250 formerly enslaved men and women who received land as part of the infamous “40 Acres and a Mule” program — only to then have that land taken back. Some of the land is now located in gated, majority-white communities — and worth as much as $2.5 million.

Ruth Wilson shows old family photos.
Alexia Fernandez Campbell
Ruth Wilson shows old family photos.

The discovery is significant because it was largely assumed such lands were only promised to Black people, and yet this two-year investigation demonstrates that was not the case. It’s also the largest collection of land titles from the “40 Acres” program to ever be analyzed and published.

We sit down with two of the reporters who worked on this series, as well as a descendant whose family had been promised land — only to have it taken away.

GUESTS:

Alexia Fernandez Campbell, senior investigative reporter at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., where she covers labor and inequality.
April Simpson, senior reporter covering racial equity at the Center for Public Integrity.
Ruth Wilson, North Carolina native and the descendant of formerly enslaved people.

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Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.