During Wednesday’s debate over State Senator Rob Bradley’s (R-Fleming Island) Senate Bill 10 – Water Resources, State Senator Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) made a remark that touched on the history of big promises and the fate those promises sometimes meet.
Gibson was one of several senators expressing concern about the lack of detail offered in the recent SB 10 amendment’s proposal for economic development projects and an employment training program for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).
Gibson said she was speaking with Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon II (D-Miami Gardens) about the promises in the bill. “I think my family’s still looking for that 40 acres,” she said.
Her 40-acre reference was to the Reconstruction era when Union General William T. Sherman made a promise for agrarian reform and redistribution of land to formerly enslaved African Americans in his “Special Field Order 15.” The order detailed that freed people would receive forty acres of their own land on the Georgia coast, along with an army surplus mule to work it.
After President Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson took the land away and gave it back to the previous owners.
Ultimately, the phrase “forty acres and a mule” has become shorthand for unfulfilled and/or broken promises made to African Americans.
Recognizing that her remark may not have been understood by everyone in attendance at the Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing, Gibson added, “Some of you will get that tomorrow.” She said, “It comes to making sure that promises made are promises kept.”
Gibson explained that it was possible to mitigate for some of the environmental aspects of the bill but not for the human impacts.
“You cannot mitigate for people who have no work or for people who have no source of income or lack the training thereof. That’s why I think of the many things in this bill, the training piece and how it comes together is extremely important for the economic sufficiency of the folks who are impacted,” said Gibson.
Several senators raised questions throughout the hearing regarding funding and additional detail on septic-to- sewer conversions, economic development projects in the EAA, as well as on the training component of the bill. Appropriations Chair State Senator Jack Latvalla (R-Clearwater) responded that the economic development section of the bill was “still a work in progress” and that funding for some projects, including septic-to- sewer conversions, would be included as part of this year’s General Appropriations Act rather than included in SB 10.