Mississippi Freedman to the Mississippi Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner

Fayette [Miss.]  Jan 25th 1866

Dear Sir   I have just read your advice to the freedmen in which you urge the freedmen to enter in to Contrack1 which is all right and good enough as fare as it gos tho you say with the end of 1865 ([year?]) our. Contracts) expired   you say your offircers did all they Could to Compel both you and employers to live up to the Contracts   well I See the planters Complane about the freedmen not being willing to Goin to Contracts   well it was to late when the war stopt for any one to plant any thing atall   the must of the planters thought the war would last at lest 4 or 5. years longer and thought the yankes would take Care of Mississippi to sut them Selves So the didnot plant as much as they Should have planted   the whites done all the Could to fret the freedmen and meny told the freedmen that the Should not Stay on there plantation if the excepted ther freedom and now up to the present time. the Steat law is in force and the offercr has told me that it was aganest the laws of the Steat for freedmen or free men to rent or lese land2   I ingaged a plase from a planter tho when he Cam to See me he told me he was afread his neaghbors would be mad would be made with him and moreover the law forbid the lesing of lands to negros   I have mad it my busness to ask the orthoretys why I Could not rent land & that I had a lot freedmen engeaged and ready   I. lade the planes to put our freedmen on good standing with Goverment   it was and is my wishes to show the world that we the free people and freed people was willing to except the new order of things and show to the world that we would work and that we was willing to work want to work and thare is plenty of men that is not able to hier and would be glad to lese or rent there lands but thay Say the law is a ganest them and now we to are forbid or denide the right of renting   we are denide the right of SCholing our Childern   we are shut out from of all the rights of freedmen & freemen   we are shout out from all the blesings of freedom   we are not aloward so much as a Common Scholl for our Childern while thosands of our brave affricans heros Sleepe beneath the sod of meny hard fought battles the bodys of whom have ben left on the field, the flesh to feed the Crows ther bones to whiten the hills   our old women blind and imfirm is thrown out to starve ofphen Cheldern forgoten and forsaken yet the freedmen & free men must pay there tax and all persons of affrican decent must get a lissens for remaning in any City or town3   liccens Cost One doller and ten Cent   well I dont See why the So much Should be sead about the freedmen & freemen or why So much blam Should be attached to us   it is plane to be seen that the freedmen do deserve Much Credit for the loyalty the have Shown for the good of the Country   its true that Som few did beleve that the goverment was going to give lands to us but thare was more of us that did not beleve it and meny Sead to me time and agane that the Goverment had done all the wanted done) Seting us free   well what Sort of freedom is this and what kind of free Country is this that one white man Can Get drink the Black man Cant buy whiskey at all not Even for sickeness4   if slavery is dune and the people of Culler is free why not be free indeed

Mr Commissioner I thought when a man was once free he was free indeed and was entital to all the laws and rights of a free people   the Great truble is and all the truble that has ben was caused by the predjudice of the people whom the [b]lacks looked to for advise and Compensission   while the masters was in army the now freedmen Stade at hom and taken Care of there once) Masters family haveing receved larg promess of great rewards after the war but the war went the orthr way So Sambo did not get that which was promesed hem So it made him dislik to Sine the Contract of old Master well well   the law says no man no man can hier hmself out without first giving his old master the refusal   the say no man has the right to hier another mans servants with[out] geting a reten concent from the former master   if a man is free and is not under or en Contract with Som one why Cant he hiere himSelf to who he plese   moreover what right has any man to arrest another for not having a wreten evedence Showing he is employed by som one5   the law is to much on Side and not enough the orther   to rent land a man is runing a great risk indeed and if Slavery is deed or crushed whould the orthereteys use the old Code of laws of (1857) which is now in force in this town   the people will work if the be let alone   evrything is dune to upset us Can   [this?] the whites dont want us to know ho[w] we are emposed one   wyh is the law much a ganest the freedmen every thing a ganest us   the Give us SCholess and law and let the people alone   the Sooner the whit man reachees back and takes the black man by the hand the Sooner he will buld up his Country and the Sooner he will buld up his felow man the sooner he will establish a good name a broad and the better his credit will be at hom   the black man and white man must take each orther by the hand or the Country is lost forever   one cant Get a long without the orther tho present thare is no singn of doing so   thare is so much hat & mallace Shown that it keeps the blackman in [p]assion   thare is land enough and mony enough every body   honesty and good labore is all we want   as to the Goverment we are Sattisfide she has done a good work.  the old ship is all right and so is her Gallent Crue

we are willing to pay for the SCholing of our Childern and thare is northing that would ad more to sattisfie the Collord people giving them the right of SCholing our Childern but thare is deale to be done yet   the Country is in a torter

So let the people get Settled   all will be right   now what law is thare that dos not sut the whit man but it changed   thare is northing but law and what is the law the hole thing is freed negros & free negros   I will Close   My best wishes to your success   beleve me Col. your humble servant
not for print

M Howard

PS NB this is privit and not for print

M Howard

I hop you will be able to read this Col. as you will see from this that I have ben a Slave and my Chance for writing is poor so I hop you will excuse bad spling & writing & all Misstaks

M H                     

M Howard to Coll Thomas, 25 Jan. 1866, H-14 1866, Registered Letters Received, series 2052, MS Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. No reply has been found in the assistant commissioner's letters-sent volumes.

1. The advice appeared in a circular of January 2, 1866, addressed “To the Colored People of Mississippi”; it is printed in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 86–88.

2. A law enacted the previous November forbade “any freedman, free negro or mulatto” to “rent or lease any lands or tenements, except in incorporated towns or cities in which places the corporate authorities shall control the same.” (An Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen, and for Other Purposes, 25 Nov. 1865, Laws of the State of Mississippi, Passed at a Regular Session of the Mississippi Legislature, Held in the City of Jackson, October, November and December, 1865 [Jackson, Miss., 1866], p. 82.)

3. A state law enacted in November 1865 empowered county officials to levy a capitation tax of up to $1 annually “on each and every freedman, free negro or mulatto, between the ages of eighteen and sixty years,” the proceeds of which were to constitute a “Freedman's Pauper Fund” and be applied by the commissioners of the poor to the relief of black paupers. Another measure enacted the same month required all black people, by the second Monday of each January, to have written evidence of employment in the form of either a labor contract or a license “to do irregular and job work.” In cities and towns, such licenses were to be issued by the mayor; in the countryside, by a member of the county board of police. (An Act to Amend the Vagrant Laws of the State, 24 Nov. 1865, and An Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen, 25 Nov. 1865, both in Laws of the State of Mississippi, 1865, pp. 83, 92–93.)

4. A state law enacted in November 1865 made it a crime for “any white person” to “sell, lend or give to any freedman, free negro or mulatto . . . any spiritous or intoxicating liquors” and for any black person to sell such liquors. Violators were subject to fines (up to $50 for white offenders and from $10 to $100 for black ones) and, at the discretion of the court, imprisonment for up to thirty days. (An Act to Punish Certain Offences Therein Named, and for Other Purposes, 29 Nov. 1865, Laws of the State of Mississippi, 1865, pp. 165–67.)

5. State law did not require a former slave to obtain the written consent of his or her former owner before hiring with someone else. It did, however, require all black people to have written evidence of employment, authorize the arrest and return of any black laborer who left an employer's service before the expiration of a contract, and impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly employed a black laborer who was already under contract or attempted to “persuade” or “entice” such a laborer “to desert from the legal employment of any person.” (An Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen, 25 Nov. 1865, Laws of the State of Mississippi, 1865, pp. 83–85.)

Published in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 104–7.