Making amends in Waynesville, 1870

“Five years after the abolition of slavery… a Methodist minister in the remote mountain town of Waynesville, North Carolina, carried out an act of reparation apparently unprecedented in U.S. history. Asa Fitzgerald signed an extraordinary land deed in August 1870, conveying most of his remaining property to nine ‘colored persons’ he and his wife’s relations had formerly enslaved. He transferred the land explicitly as restitution for the many years of unpaid labor ‘performed by them and their ancestors while in slavery’….

“For eight years Fitzgerald and his family lived with this remarkable arrangement in apparent peace. The Fitzgerald patriarch died in 1878 with little remaining property aside from his house, a small plot of land, and his library. It did not take long for his wife and children to take legal action undoing his novel transaction….”

— From “A Personal Act of Reparation” by Kirk Savage in Lapham’s Quarterly (Dec. 15, 2019)

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