It was the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln that changed the wealth trajectory for hundreds of thousands of Black people. To this day, the effects of the lack of wealth compared to our white counterparts recognizably still lingers in communities across the United States.
You may be asking “what did President Lincoln’s death have to do with the wealth trajectory for the Black community?” In 1865, President Lincoln signed the original Freedman Bureau bills under the newly established U.S. agency, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, to food, shelter, housing, medical services, and land, to newly freed slaves. The signed legislation included a special order: to set aside land for each newly freed slave family no more than 40 acres and a mule.”
Today, we know that failed promise simply as “40 acres and a mule,” which could have created perpetual wealth for millions of Black folks today. The legislation died immediately after President Lincoln was assassinated. President Andrew Johnson, a states’ rights advocate, took over and revoked the original bill excluding the 40 acres and a mule. The bill was replaced with a restrictive set of laws called the Black Codes. The Black Codes limited newly freed slaves from having equity and assets that can be passed down from generation to generation. It established the conception of wage labor and sharecropping.
Black people were forced to work for starved wages on the land of former slave owners and for crops that in many cases they could not afford. Sharecropping was an agreement where Black tenants would rent land from white landowners and Blacks did not have the resources to purchase the tools needed to farm the land. During bad harvest seasons, Blacks were not able to grow enough crops and earn enough money to sustain their lifestyle and repay debts. In essence, the new set of laws simultaneously introduced Blacks to the following post-Civil War: cheap labor and debt.
Throughout the years, Blacks continued to be on the other side of intergenerational wealth by the means of bad contracts and negotiations in the entertainment and sports industry. We appeared in corporate commercials and signed advance contracts, which did not provide us perpetual wealth in the form of equity and pushed us into unnecessary indebtedness. We have been conditioned to believe that hard work will pay off and that credit will increasingly close the wealth gap.
In 2021, there is a new awakening happening in the many Black communities and households. The most forward way to close the wealth gap in the United States cannot be sustained in a fight for higher wages or access to credit, but rather in the form of equity. Yes, we must be concerned with making a living now to pay for our immediate basic needs, but we must also make it a priority to create a life for generations after us.
We can do this by continuing to invest in the many public companies we increasingly patronize, demanding corporate America issue equity in the form of stock options to front-line workers, and by taking advantage of existing companies’ equity programs. The revolutionary fight moving forward must not solely be for better earnings but also for earned equity – especially from businesses we help build from our hard work and our hard earned money.
Equity is the new Black.