The story behind 40 acres and a mule

SOCASTEE, SC (WMBF) — Whatever the culture, farming is familiar to many.

For a black farm in Socastée, their harvests were not intended for sale but rather a means of survival.

When we think of farm life, we can think of chickens, pigs and even some mules.

At Freewoods Farm in Socastee, you’ll see a lot of these animals, but that’s not all.

“We have collard greens,” said O’Neal Smalls, president of the Freewoods Foundation. “Turnip, mustard, cabbage.

With 40 acres to cover, Smalls enlisted volunteers like Craig James.

“You have everything you need. You can build a house here,” Smalls said. “You have your farm, your vegetables, your produce.”

Together they roam the farm planting produce and feeding the livestock.

Looking at Freewoods Farms from afar, it seems like the standard American farm.

However, there is a deeper story sown in this soil.

“Freewoods was a black community,” Smalls said. “[It] started right at the end of the Civil War and lasted for the 100 years we’re talking about, that first century of freedom.

After 300 tumultuous years of slavery, Smalls said with nothing but their freedom, black families asked for only one thing, 40 acres and a mule.

“They really thought they could make it happen if they got 40 acres,” he said. “Well, they didn’t understand it.”

Instead, about 30 black families put their minds and tools together to create a self-sustaining community. He amply showed that farming on this land was not just an obligation, it was the only means of survival.

“They had to carve out a new life for themselves,” Smalls explained. “They grew almost everything they ate. In addition to talking about what happened on the farm, we need to talk about what happened in the community.

After hours of tireless work in the fields, these black farmers built their own churches and schools.

Some are still standing today.

To earn money, farmers grew cash crops like tobacco and cotton.

This independent way of life continued from 1865 to 1900, for 35 years.

“What they did here, I think, is a remarkable story,” Smalls said.

In fact, it’s a tale that Smalls promises never to let die, which is evident in what we see here today.

Growing crops, hens producing eggs daily and mules to carry everything.

It’s this preservation of its history that has driven South Carolina blacks like James to grab the seed sacks to lend a hand.

“That’s how you keep something like that alive,” James said. “You have a few people who come to volunteer, but you want to involve the community more.”

Today, Freewoods Farm Museum is also the only known black farmers’ museum in the country.

Centuries later, many things have changed, but when it comes to working in the field, Smalls said you won’t see much of a difference.

“Same way,” he said. “We do it like they did.”

Smalls said there was always room for more volunteers.

If you would like to support, visit or for more information about Freewoods Farm, click here.

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