The Southern Homestead Act and Black Economic Mobility

This research project follows freed slaves from when they first applied for their land under the Southern Homestead Act until 1900 to learn how access to free land influenced their economic progress.

Following the Civil War, slaves were freed with hopes of obtaining “forty acres and a mule.” While these dreams were not fulfilled, the Southern Homestead Act provided some former slaves the opportunity to achieve land ownership. However, little is known about the SHA’s effect on those first black homesteaders. While economic inequality is often viewed as insurmountable, the past offers valuable examples of policies that could potentially reduce inequality. Understanding what did or did not influence economic inequality historically can guide policies today.