HARTFORD, CT — Advocates gathered outside the governor’s residence Wednesday to demand an apology from Gov. Ned Lamont for a remark he made on July 9 during a daily press briefing.
In July, Lamont said: “One more time I’ll tell you about the PPP loans, the Paycheck Protection Program. It’s a little like the ‘40 acres and a mule.’ It’s really a big giveaway that the federal government has done for good purpose I would say.”
Preachers, lawyers and activists gathered Wednesday said Lamont’s statement was “insensitive,” and ignores history.
Lamont’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
“I, and many others, find it very troubling that the governor speaks in terms of opportunity, but turned down an opportunity to apologize,” Rev. Maurice Porter of Impact Church in Hartford said.
He said apologizing creates opportunity—“the opportunity is that he can learn and be enlightened. The opportunity is to be understood for what you meant and what you said.”
He said if Lamont meant no harm by his statement, “then it will be no harm for him to apologize.”
“Ignorance is not an excuse for an unapologetic offense,” Porter said. “It’s possible to cause harm without meaning harm.”
Gwen Samuel, who helped organize the gathering, said Lamont’s analogy was wrong because the opportunity for freed Black slaves never happened in 1865. There was never any “big giveaway” as the governor implied in his remarks.
“It’s important to remember that ‘40 acres and a mule’ was a broken promise,” Samuel said.
Samuel said they want Lamont to apologize and correct the record.
Samuel said they can’t know what’s in Lamont’s heart, but they “can regulate the elected official’s behavior.”
She said elections should be an easy way to do so because if elected officials don’t value the Black community then they can vote for another candidate.
Lamont isn’t up for re-election for another two years.
Josephine Smalls Miller, a civil rights attorney, said Lamont’s comments ignore the actual history of the broken promise.
The concept stems from General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15.
President Abraham Lincoln sent his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, to meet with twenty Black leaders of the Savannah community. It was agreed that land along the coast of Georgia and South Carolina would be given to the newly freed slaves.
“About 40,000 African-Americans settled on these lands,” Smalls Miller said. “It was also said by General Sherman that anybody who wanted to loan—they didn’t outright promise to give it to them—but they said we will loan you mules so that you can work the land.”
However, after this idea was put forth, Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson became the 17th president.
“He was a man who did not believe in resources for the newly freed slaves,” Smalls Miller said. “So less than a year after the promise was made for this land, Andrew Johnson reversed that order and those individuals who received the allotment of land and the loan of a mule, it was taken back. The land was given back to the former slave owners.”
Smalls Miler said today, the Black community is still fighting for the same thing: access to the same resources.