World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Freedmen's Bureau

A Bureau agent stands between armed groups of whites and Freedmen in this 1868 picture from Harper's Weekly.

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, usually referred to as simply the Freedmen's Bureau,[1] was a U.S. federal government agency established in 1865 to aid freedmen (freed slaves) in the South during the Reconstruction era of the United States, which attempted to change society in the former Confederacy.

The Oliver O. Howard, the Bureau started operations in 1865. Throughout the first year, its representatives learned that these tasks would be very difficult, as Southern legislatures passed laws for Black Codes that restricted movement, conditions of labor, and other civil rights of African Americans, nearly duplicating conditions of slavery.

Not withstanding, the Bureau's powers were expanded to help African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It arranged to teach them to read and write, considered critical by the freedmen themselves as well as the government.[3][4] Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues.[3] The Bureau encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations, urged freed Blacks to gain employment above all, kept an eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and pushed both whites and blacks to work together as employers and employees rather than as masters and as slaves.[3]

In 1866, Congress renewed the charter for the Bureau. President [2] In 1872, Congress abruptly abandoned the program, effectively shutting down the Bureau by refusing to approve renewal legislation. It did not inform Howard, who had been transferred to Arizona by President Ulysess S. Grant to settle hostilities between the Apache Indians and settlers. Grant's Secretary of War William W. Belknap, was hostile to Howard's leadership and authority at the Bureau, and aroused controversy by his reassignment. Howard had approved of closing the Bureau, as he believed it should be temporary, but he was upset to have been out of Washington, D.C. when the agency was closed.


  • Achievements 1
    • Day-to-day duties 1.1
    • Gender roles 1.2
    • Education 1.3
      • Teachers 1.3.1
    • Colleges 1.4
    • Educational legacy 1.5
    • Church establishment 1.6
  • Continuing insurgency 2
  • State effectiveness 3
    • Virginia 3.1
    • North Carolina 3.2
    • South Carolina 3.3
    • Georgia 3.4
    • Florida 3.5
    • Texas 3.6
  • Bureau records 4
  • See also 5
  • Bibliography 6
    • General 6.1
    • Education 6.2
    • Specialized studies 6.3
    • Primary sources 6.4
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Day-to-day duties

The Freedmen's Bureau office in Memphis, Tennessee, 1866.
Marriage certificate issued by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, Wilson County, Tennessee, 1866.

The Bureau helped solve everyday problems of the newly freed slaves, such as obtaining clothing, food, water, health care, communication with family members, and jobs. It distributed 15 million rations of food to African Americans,[6] and set up a system where planters could borrow rations in order to feed freedmen they employed. Although the Bureau set aside $350,000 for this service, only $35,000 (10%) was borrowed by planters.

Despite the good intentions, efforts, and limited success of the Bureau, medical treatment of the freedmen was severely deficient.[7] Most southern white doctors and nurses would not treat freedmen, infrastructure had been destroyed by the war, and people had few means of improving sanitation. Blacks had not had much opportunity to develop their own medical personnel. In this period epidemics of cholera and yellow fever were carried along the river corridors, breaking out across the South.

Gender roles

Freedman's Bureau agents, at first, complained that freedwomen were refusing to contract their labor. One of the first actions black families took was to withdraw women's labor from fieldwork. The Bureau attempted to force freed women to work by insisting that their husbands sign contracts making the whole family available as field labor in the cotton industry, and by declaring that unemployed freed women should be treated as vagrants just as men were. The Bureau did allow some exceptions, such as married women with employed husbands, and some "worthy" women who had been widowed or abandoned and had large families of small children to care for. "Unworthy" women, meaning the unruly and prostitutes, were usually the ones subjected to punishment for vagrancy.[8]

Under slavery, most marriages had been informal, as slaveholders refused to acknowledge slave marriages and they were not legally recognized, although planters often presided over marriage ceremonies for their slaves. After the war, the Freedmen's Bureau performed numerous marriages for freed couples who asked for it. As many husbands and wives had been separated during wartime chaos, the Bureau agents helped families in their attempts to reunite after the war. The Bureau had an informal regional communications system that allowed agents to send inquiries and provide answers. It sometimes provided transportation to reunite families. Freedmen and freed women turned to the Bureau for assistance in resolving issues of abandonment and divorce.


The most widely recognized accomplishments of the Freedman's Bureau were in education. Prior to the Civil War, no southern state had a system of universal, state-supported public education and prohibited slaves and free blacks from gaining education. Former slaves wanted public education while the wealthier whites opposed the idea. Freedmen had a strong desire to learn to read and write; some started schools at refugee camps; others worked hard to establish schools in their communities even prior to the advent of the Freedmen's Bureau.

Oliver Otis Howard was appointed as the first Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner. Through his leadership the bureau set up four divisions: Government-Controlled Lands, Records, Financial Affairs, and Medical Affairs. Education was considered part of the Records division. Howard turned over confiscated property including planters' mansions, government buildings, books, and furniture to superintendents to be used in the education of freedmen, and provided transportation and room and board for teachers. Many Northerners came south to educate the freedmen.

The Misses Cooke's school room, Freedman's Bureau, Richmond, Virginia, 1866.

By 1866, northern missionary and aid societies worked in conjunction with the Freedmen's Bureau to provide education for former slaves. The American Missionary Association was particularly active, establishing eleven colleges in southern states for the education of freedmen. The primary focus of these groups was to raise funds to pay teachers and manage schools, while the secondary focus was the day-to-day operation of individual schools. After 1866, Congress appropriated some funds to operate the freedmen's schools. The main source of educational revenue for these schools came through a Congressional Act that gave the Freedmen's Bureau the power to seize Confederate property for educational use.

  • Freedmen's Bureau Online
  • "Freedmen's Bureau Marriage Records, 1815-1866", 2007, website
  • Joseph P. Reidy, "Slave Emancipation Through the Prism of Archives Records", Prologue Magazine, (1997)
  • Georgia: Freedmen's Education during Reconstruction
  • Africana Archives: Freedmen's Bureau Records at the USF Africana Heritage Project

External links

  1. ^ A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875. Retrieved on 2013-07-28.
  2. ^ a b c d Freedmen's Bureau, The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow . Jim Crow Stories, PBS. Retrieved on 2013-07-28.
  3. ^ a b c Clayborne Carson, Emma J. Lapsansky-Werner, and Gary B. Nash, The Struggle for Freedom: A History of African Americans, 256.
  4. ^ Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African-American Kinship in the Civil War EraReview of , Freedmen & Southern Society Project.
  5. ^ National Park Service
    The Freedman's Bureau Bill
    Freedmen's Bureau Bill First Veto: 1. Opposed to the use of the military during peacetime. 2. Believed the Bill was a Federal encroachment into state matters. 3. Believed this was "class legislation" for a particular segment of society that: a. Would keep the ex-slaves from being self-sustaining, and b. Had not been done previously for struggling poor whites (as he had been as an ex-apprentice). 4. Johnson did not believe that Congress should be making such decisions for states that were not represented in Congress at that point. Second veto: Johnson's second objections were the same as his first.
  6. ^ a b Goldhaber 1992
  7. ^ Pearson 2002; Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (NY: Oxford U.P., 2012)
  8. ^ Farmer-Kaiser, 2004
  9. ^ Crouch 1997
  10. ^ West, Earle H. (1982). "Book review of Freedmen's Schools and Textbooks" 51. pp. 165–167.  
  11. ^ McPherson, p. 450
  12. ^ Ronald E. Butchart, Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876 (2010)
  13. ^ Michelle A. Krowl, "Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876"Review of Butchart, Ronald E., , H-SAWH, H-Net Reviews. September, 2011.
  14. ^ Morris, 1981, p. 160.
  15. ^ Howard, 1907
  16. ^ Data from United Negro College Fund.
  17. ^ Harrison, Robert (2006-02-01). "Welfare and Employment Policies of the Freedmen's Bureau in the District of Columbia". Journal of Southern History (1 Feb 2006). Retrieved 25 January 2009. 
  18. ^ a b "The Church in the Southern Black Community". Documenting the South. University of North Carolina, 2004. Retrieved 15 January 2009. 
  19. ^ Morrow 1954
  20. ^ Foner 1988
  21. ^ Smith 2000
  22. ^ Howard, 1907, 447.
  23. ^ a b c see "Reports of Generals Steedman and Fullerton on the condition of the Freedmen's Bureau in the Southern States"
  24. ^ from "Reports of Generals Steedman and Fullerton on the condition of the Freedmen's Bureau in the Southern States", date
  25. ^ The United States Army and Navy Journal and Gazette of the Regular and Volunteer Forces. Army and Navy Journal Incorporated. 1865. p. 616. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  26. ^ Charles F. Kovacik, and Robert E. Mason. "Changes in the South Carolina Sea Island Cotton Industry," Southeastern Geographer (1985) 25#2 pp: 77-104.
  27. ^ Paul A. Cimbala, Under the Guardianship of the Nation: the Freedmen's Bureau and the Reconstruction of Georgia, 1865-1870 (University of Georgia Press, 2003); For an online review see John David Smith, "'The Work It Did Not Do Because It Could Not': Georgia and the 'New' Freedmen's Bureau Historiography," Georgia Historical Quarterly (1998) pp: 331-349. in JSTOR
  28. ^ Sara Rapport, "The Freedmen's Bureau as a Legal Agent for Black Men and Women in Georgia: 1865-1868," Georgia Historical Quarterly (1989): 26-53. in JSTOR
  29. ^ Todd L. Savitt, "Politics in Medicine: The Georgia Freedmen's Bureau and the Organization of Health Care, 1865-1866," Civil War History 28.1 (1982): 45-64. Project MUSE Online
  30. ^ Joe M. Richardson, "An Evaluation of the Freedmen's Bureau in Florida," Florida Historical Quarterly (1963) 41#3 pp: 223-238 in JSTOR
  31. ^ Bentley, George R. (1949). "The Political Activity of the Freedmen's Bureau in Florida". Florida Historical Quarterly 28 (1): 28–37. 
  32. ^ Claude Elliott, "The Freedmen's Bureau in Texas." Southwestern Historical Quarterly (1952): 1-24. in JSTOR
  33. ^ William Lee Richter, Overreached on all sides: the Freedmen's Bureau administrators in Texas, 1865-1868 (Texas A&M University Press, 1991)
  34. ^ Barry A. Crouch, The Freedmen's Bureau and Black Texans (University of Texas Press, 2010)
  35. ^ 114 Stat. 1924
  36. ^ National Archives
  37. ^


  • Berlin, Ira, ed. Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War (1995)
  • Howard, O.O. (1907). Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard/ Major General United States Army (Volume Two). New York: The Baker & Taylor Company.
  • Stone, William. "Bitter Freedom:" William Stone's Record of Service in the Freedmen's Bureau, edited by Suzanne Stone Johnson and Robert Allison Johnson (2008), memoir by white Bureau official
  • Minutes of the Freedmen's Convention, Held in the City of Raleigh, North Carolina, October, 1866
  • Freedmen's Bureau Online
  • Reports and Speeches
  • General Howard's report for 1869: The House of Representatives, Forty-first Congress, second session

Primary sources

  • Bethel, Elizabeth . "The Freedmen's Bureau in Alabama," Journal of Southern History Vol. 14, No. 1, (February 1948) pp. 49–92 in JSTOR.
  • Bickers, John M. "The Power to Do What Manifestly Must Be Done: Congress, the Freedmen's Bureau, and Constitutional Imagination", Roger Williams University Law Review, Vol. 12, No. 70, 2006 online at SSRN.
  • Cimbala, Paul A. "On the Front Line of Freedom: Freedmen's Bureau Officers and Agents in Reconstruction Georgia, 1865–1868," Georgia Historical Quarterly 1992 76(3): 577–611. Issn: 0016-8297.
  • Cimbala, Paul A. Under the Guardianship of the Nation: the Freedmen's Bureau and the Reconstruction of Georgia, 1865–1870 (1997).
  • Click, Patricia C. Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony, 1862–1867 (2001).
  • Crouch, Barry. The Freedmen's Bureau and Black Texans (1992).
  • Crouch; Barry A. "The 'Chords of Love': Legalizing Black Marital and Family Rights in Postwar Texas," The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 79, 1994.
  • Downs, Jim. Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • Durrill, Wayne K. "Political Legitimacy and Local Courts: 'Politicks at Such a Rage' in a Southern Community during Reconstruction," in Journal of Southern History, Vol. 70 #3, 2004 pp. 577–617.
  • Farmer-Kaiser, Mary. "'Are They Not in Some Sorts Vagrants?' Gender and the Efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau to Combat Vagrancy in the Reconstruction South," Georgia Historical Quarterly 2004 88(1): 25–49. Issn: 0016-8297.
  • Farmer-Kaiser, Mary. Freedwomen and the Freedmen's Bureau: Race, Gender, and Public Policy in the Age of Emancipation (Fordham University Press, 2010); describes how freedwomen found both an ally and an enemy in the Bureau.
  • Finley, Randy. From Slavery to Future: the Freedmen's Bureau in Arkansas, 1865–1869 (1996).
  • Lieberman, Robert C. "The Freedmen's Bureau and the Politics of Institutional Structure," Social Science History 1994 18(3): 405–437. Issn: 0145-5532.
  • Lowe, Richard (1993). "The Freedman's Bureau and Local Black Leadership". Journal of American History 80 (3): 989–998.  
  • Morrow Ralph Ernst. Northern Methodism and Reconstruction (1956)
  • May J. Thomas. "Continuity and Change in the Labor Program of the Union Army and the Freedmen's Bureau," Civil War History 17 (September 1971): 245–54.
  • Oubre, Claude F. Forty Acres and a Mule. (1978).
  • Pearson, Reggie L. "'There Are Many Sick, Feeble, and Suffering Freedmen': the Freedmen's Bureau's Health-care Activities During Reconstruction in North Carolina, 1865–1868," North Carolina Historical Review 2002 79(2): 141–181. Issn: 0029-2494 .
  • Richter, William L. Overreached on All Sides: The Freedmen's Bureau Administrators in Texas, 1865–1868 (1991).
  • Rodrigue, John C. "Labor Militancy and Black Grassroots Political Mobilization in the Louisiana Sugar Region, 1865–1868" in Journal of Southern History, Vol. 67 #1, 2001, pp. 115–45.
  • Schwalm, Leslie A. "'Sweet Dreams of Freedom': Freedwomen's Reconstruction of Life and Labor in Lowcountry South Carolina," Journal of Women's History, Vol. 9 #1, 1997 pp. 9–32.
  • Smith, Solomon K. "The Freedmen's Bureau in Shreveport: the Struggle for Control of the Red River District," Louisiana History 2000 41(4): 435–465. Issn: 0024-6816.
  • Williamson, Joel. After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina during Reconstruction, 1861–1877 (1965).
  • Freedmen's Bureau in Texas, Texas Handbook of History online

Specialized studies

  • Abbott, Martin. "The Freedmen's Bureau and Negro Schooling in South Carolina," South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 57#2 (Apr., 1956), pp. 65–81 in JSTOR
  • Anderson, James D. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935 (1988).
  • Butchart, Ronald E. Northern Schools, Southern Blacks, and Reconstruction: Freedmen's Education, 1862-1875 (1980).
  • Crouch, Barry A. "Black Education in Civil War and Reconstruction Louisiana: George T. Ruby, the Army, and the Freedmen's Bureau" Louisiana History 1997 38(3): 287–308. Issn: 0024-6816.
  • Goldhaber, Michael (1992). "A Mission Unfulfilled: Freedmen's Education in North Carolina, 1865–1870". Journal of Negro History 77 (4): 199–210.  
  • Hornsby, Alton. "The Freedmen's Bureau Schools in Texas, 1865–1870," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 76#4 (April, 1973), pp. 397–417 in JSTOR
  • Jackson, L. P. "The Educational Efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau and Freedmen's Aid Societies in South Carolina, 1862–1872," The Journal of Negro History (1923), vol 8#1, pp 1–40. in JSTOR
  • Jones, Jacqueline. Soldiers of Light and Love: Northern Teachers and Georgia Blacks, 1865–1873 (1980).
  • Morris, Robert C. Reading, 'Riting, and Reconstruction: The Education of Freedmen in the South, 1861–1870 (1981).
  • Myers, John B. "The Education of the Alabama Freedmen During Presidential Reconstruction, 1865–1867," Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 40#2 (Spring 1971), pp. 163–171 in JSTOR
  • Parker, Marjorie H. "Some Educational Activities of the Freedmen's Bureau," Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 23#1 (Winter, 1954), pp. 9–21. in JSTOR
  • Richardson, Joe M. Christian Reconstruction: The American Missionary Association and Southern Blacks, 1861–1890 (1986)
  • Richardson, Joe M. "The Freedmen's Bureau and Negro Education in Florida," Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 31#4 (Autumn, 1962), pp. 460–467. in JSTOR
  • Span, Christopher M. "'I Must Learn Now or Not at All': Social and Cultural Capital in the Educational Initiatives of Formerly Enslaved African Americans in Mississippi, 1862–1869," The Journal of African American History, 2002, pp. 196–222.
  • Tyack, David, and Robert Lowe. "The Constitutional Moment: Reconstruction and Black Education in the South," American Journal of Education, Vol. 94#2 (February 1986), pp. 236–256 in JSTOR
  • Williams, Heather Andrea; "'Clothing Themselves in Intelligence': The Freedpeople, Schooling, and Northern Teachers, 1861–1871", The Journal of African American History, 2002, pp. 372+.
  • Williams, Heather Andrea. Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom (2006). online edition


  • Bentley George R. A History of the Freedmen's Bureau (1955); old fashioned overview
  • Carpenter, John A.; Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard (1999); full biography of Bureau leader
  • Cimbala, Paul A. The Freedmen's Bureau: Reconstructing the American South after the Civil War (2005)
  • Cimbala, Paul A. and Trefousse, Hans L. (eds), The Freedmen's Bureau: Reconstructing the American South After the Civil War. 2005; essays by scholars.
  • Colby, I. C. (1985). "The Freedmen's Bureau: From Social Welfare to Segregation". Phylon 46: 219–230.  
  • (1901).The Freedmen's BureauW. E. Burghardt Du Bois,
  • Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (1988).
  • Goldberg, Chad Alan. Citizens and Paupers: Relief, Rights, and Race, from the Freedmen's Bureau to Workfare (2007) compares the Bureau with the WPA in the 1930s and welfare today excerpt and text search
  • Litwack, Leon F. Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, 1979.
  • McFeely, William S. Yankee Stepfather: General O.O. Howard and the Freedmen (1994); biography of Bureau's head. excerpt and text search



See also

In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the "Freedmen's Bureau Preservation Act," which directed the National Archivist to preserve the extensive records of the Bureau on microfilm, and work with educational institutions to index the records.[35] In addition to the those records of the Bureau headquarters, assistant commissioners, and superintendents of education, the National Archives now has records of the field offices, marriage records, and records of the Freedmen's Branch of the Adjutant General on microfilm. They are being digitized and made available through online databases. These constitute a major source of documentation on the operations of the Bureau, political and social conditions in the Reconstruction Era, and the genealogies of freedpeople.[36] See Reginald Washington, "Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony/ Freedmen's Bureau Marriage Records", Prologue Magazine, Spring 2005, Vol. 37, No. 1. For access and inquires about the use of the records, researchers should visit or write (e-mail) the Old Military and Civil Branch, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408. For the location of previously filmed and future Freedmen's Bureau microfilm publications, researchers should contact the nearest regional archives or visit the NARA online microfilm catalog. By 2014, under arrangement with the National Archives, records are available online through Family Search [37] and Ancestry.

Bureau records

Suffering much less damage in the war than some other Deep South states, Texas became a destination for some 200,000 refugee blacks from other parts of the South, in addition to 200,000 already in Texas. Slavery had been prevalent only in East Texas, and some freedmen hoped for the chance of new types of opportunity in the lightly populated but booming state. The Bureau's political role was central, as was close attention to the need for schools.[32][33][34]


The Florida Bureau was assessed to be working effectively. Col. T. W. Osborne, the assistant commissioner of the Bureau for Florida, was an astute politician who collaborated with the leadership of both parties in the state. He was warmly praised by observers on all sides.[30][31]


The Bureau played a major role in Georgia politics.[27] It was especially active in setting up, monitoring, and enforcing labor contracts for both men and women.[28] It also set up a new system of healthcare for the freedmen.[29]


In certain areas, such as the Sea Islands, many freedmen were destitute. Many had tried to cultivate the land and began businesses with little to no success in the social disruption of the period.[26]

The investigators learned of reported murders of freedmen by a band of outlaws. These outlaws were thought to be people from other states, such as Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee, who had been part of the rebel army (Ku Klux Klan chapters were similarly started by veterans in the first years after the war.) When citizens were asked why the perpetrators had not been arrested, many answered that the Bureau, with the support of the military, had the primary authority.[23]

General Saxton was head of the bureau operations in South Carolina; he was reported by Steedman and Fullerton to have made so many "mistakes and blunders" that he made matters worse for the freedmen. He was replaced by Brigadier General R.K. Scott. Steedman and Fullerton described Scott as energetic and a competent officer. It appeared that he took great pains to turn things around and correct the mistakes made by his predecessors.

In South Carolina, the bureau employed, nine clerks, at average pay each per month $108.33, one rental agent, at monthly pay of $75.00, one clerk, at monthly pay of $50.00, one storekeeper, at monthly pay of $85.00, one counselor, at monthly pay of $125.00, one superintendent of education, at monthly pay of $150.00, one printer, at monthly pay of $100.00, one contract surgeon, at monthly pay of $100.00, twenty-five laborers, at average pay per month $19.20.

South Carolina

Some misconduct was reported to the bureau main office that bureau agents were using their posts for personal gains. Colonel E. Whittlesey was questioned but said he was not involved in nor knew of anyone involved in such activities. The bureau exercised what whites believed were arbitrary powers: making arrests, imposing fines, and inflicting punishments. They were considered to be disregarding the local laws and especially the statute of limitations. Their activities resulted in resentment among whites toward the federal government in general. These powers invoked negative feelings in many southerners that sparked many to want the agency to leave. In their review, Steedman and Fullerton repeated their conclusion from Virginia, which was to withdraw the Bureau and turn daily operations over to the military.[23]

In North Carolina, the bureau employed: 9 contract surgeons, at $100 per month; 26 hospital attendants, at average pay each per month $11.25; 18 civilian employees, clerks, agents, etc., at an average pay per month of $17.20; 4 laborers, at an average pay per month of $11.90; enlisted men are detailed as orderlies, guards, etc., by commanding officers of the different military posts where officers of the Bureau are serving.[25]

North Carolina

"A majority of the freedmen to whom this subsistence has been furnished are undoubtedly able to earn a living if they were removed to localities where labor could be procured. The necessity for issuing rations to this class of persons results from their accumulation in large numbers in certain places where the land is unproductive and the demand for labor is limited. As long as these people remain in the present localities, the civil authorities refuse to provide for the able-bodied, and are unable to care for the helpless and destitute among them, owing to their great number and the fact that very few are residents of the counties in which they have congregated during the war. The necessity for the relief extended to these people, both able-bodied and helpless, by the Government, will continue as long as they remain in their present condition, and while rations are issued to the able-bodied they will not voluntarily change their localities to seek places where they can procure labor.'[24]

During the war, slaves had escaped to Union lines and forts in the Tidewater, where contraband camps were established. Many stayed in that area after the war, seeking protection near the federal forts. The Bureau fed 9,000 to 10,000 blacks a month over the winter, explaining:

The Freedmen's Bureau had 58 clerks and superintendents of farms, paid average monthly wages $78.50; 12 assistant superintendents, paid average monthly wages 87.00; and 163 laborers, paid average monthly wages 11.75; as personnel in the state of Virginia. Other personnel included orderlies and guards.[23]


State effectiveness

In March 1872, at the request of President Ulysses S. Grant and the Secretary of the Interior, Columbus Delano, General Howard was asked to temporarily leave his duties as Commissioner of the Bureau to deal with Indian affairs in the west. Upon returning from his assignment in November 1872, General Howard discovered that the Bureau and all of its activities had been officially terminated by Congress, effective as of June (Howard, 1907). In his autobiography, General Howard expressed great frustration in regard to what had taken place without his knowledge, stating "the legislative action, however, was just what I desired, except that I would have preferred to close out my own Bureau and not have another do it for me in an unfriendly manner in my absence."[22] All documents and matters pertaining to the Freedmen's Bureau were transferred from the office of General Howard to the War Department of the United States Congress.

Perhaps the most difficult region was Louisiana's Caddo-Bossier Parish. It had not experienced wartime devastation or Union occupation. Understaffed and weakly supported by federal troops, well-meaning Bureau agents found their investigations blocked and authority undermined at every turn by recalcitrant plantation owners. Murders of freedmen were common, and suspects in these cases went unprosecuted. Bureau agents did negotiate labor contracts, build schools and hospitals, and aid freedmen, but they struggled against the oppressive environment.[21]

Most of the assistant commissioners, realizing that African Americans would not receive fair trials in the civil courts, tried to handle black cases in their own Bureau courts. Southern whites objected that this was unconstitutional. In Alabama, state and county judges were commissioned as Bureau agents. They were to try cases involving blacks with no distinctions on racial grounds. If a judge refused, martial law could be instituted in his district. All but three judges accepted their unwanted commissions, and the governor urged compliance.[20]

An 1866 poster attacking the Freedmen's Bureau.

Continuing insurgency

Northern mission societies raised funds for land, buildings, teachers' salaries, and basic necessities such as books and furniture. For years they used networks throughout their churches to raise money for freedmen's education and worship.[19]

Even before the war, blacks had established independent Baptist congregations in some cities and towns, such as Silver Bluff, Charleston, Petersburg, and Richmond. In many places, especially in more rural areas, they shared public services with whites. Often enslaved blacks met secretly to conduct their own services away from white supervision or oversight.[18] After the war, freedmen mostly withdrew from the white-dominated congregations of the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in order to be free to worship as they pleased away from white supervision. Within a short time, they were organizing black Baptist state association, and organized a national association in the 1890s.

[18] After the Civil War, control over existing churches was a contentious issue. The Methodist denomination had split into regional associations prior to the war. In some cities, Northern

Church establishment

Perhaps the best known of these institutions is Howard University, founded in Washington, D.C., in 1867, with the aid of the Freedmen's Bureau. It was named for the commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, General Oliver Otis Howard.[17]

As of 2009, there exist approximately 105 [16]

Despite the untimely dissolution of the Freedman's Bureau, its legacy influenced the important historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which were the chief institutions of higher learning for blacks in the South through the decades of segregation into the mid-20th century. Under the direction and sponsorship of the Bureau, together with the American Missionary Association in many cases, from approximately 1866 until its termination in 1872, an estimated 25 institutions of higher learning for black youth were established.[15] The leaders among them continue to operate as highly ranked institutions in the 21st century. (Examples include St. Augustine's College, Fisk University, Johnson C. Smith University, Clark Atlanta University, Dillard University, Shaw University, Virginia Union University, and Tougaloo College).

Educational legacy

Most of these colleges, universities and normal schools combined what they believed were the best fundamentals of a college with that of the home, giving students a basic structure to build acceptable practices of upstanding lives. For instance, at the majority of these schools, students were expected to bathe a prescribed number of times per week, maintain an orderly living space, and present a particular appearance. At many of these institutions, Christian principles and practices were also part of the daily regime.

Generally, they believed that blacks needed help to enter a free labor market and reconstruct stable family life. Heads of local American Missionary Associations sponsored various educational and religious efforts for African Americans. Later efforts for higher education were supported by such leaders as Samuel Chapman Armstrong of the Hampton Institute and Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute (from 1881). They said that black students should be able to leave home and "live in an atmosphere conducive not only to scholarship but to culture and refinement".[14]

The building and opening of schools of higher learning for African Americans coincided with the shift in focus for the Freedmen's Aid Societies from supporting an elementary education for all African Americans to gaining a high school and college education for African-American leaders. Both of these events worked in concert with concern on the part of white officials working with African Americans in the South. These officials were concerned about the lack of a moral or financial foundation seen in the African-American community and traced that lack of foundation back to slavery.


Accounts by northern women and missionary societies resulted in historians believing that most Bureau teachers were well-educated women from the North, motivated by religion and abolitionism to teach in the South. In the 21st century, new research finds that half the teachers were southern whites; one-third were blacks (mostly southern), and one-sixth were northern whites.[12] Few were abolitionists; few came from New England. Men outnumbered women. The salary was the strongest motivation except for the northerners, who were typically funded by northern organizations and had a humanitarian motivation. As a group, the black cohort showed the greatest commitment to racial equality; and they were the ones most likely to remain teachers. The school curriculum resembled that of schools in the north.[13]


By 1871, Northerners' interest in reconstructing the South with military power had waned. Northerners were beginning to tire of the effort that Reconstruction required, were discouraged at the high rate of continuing violence around elections, and were ready for the South to take care of itself. All of the southern states had created new constitutions that established universal, publicly funded education. Groups based in the North began to redirect their money toward universities and colleges founded to educate African-American leaders.

By 1870, there were more than 1,000 schools for freedmen in the South.[11] J. W. Alvord, an inspector for the Bureau, wrote that the freedmen "have the natural thirst for knowledge," aspire to "power and influence … coupled with learning," and are excited by "the special study of books." Among the former slaves, children and adults sought this new opportunity to learn. After the Bureau was abolished, some of its achievements collapsed under the weight of white violence against schools and teachers for blacks. After the 1870s, when white Democrats regained power of southern governments, they reduced funds available to fund public education, particularly for blacks. In the 1890s they passed a new state constitutions disenfranchising most blacks by creating barriers to voter registration. They passed Jim Crow laws establishing legal segregation of public places. Segregated schools and other services for blacks were consistently underfunded by the southern legislatures.[6]

[10] The Freedmen's Bureau published their own freedmen's textbook. They emphasized the bootstrap philosophy, encouraging freedmen to believe that each person had the ability to work hard and to do better in life. These readers included traditional literacy lessons; as well as selections on the life and works of

Overall, the Bureau spent $5 million to set up schools for blacks. By the end of 1865, more than 90,000 former slaves were enrolled as students in such public schools. Attendance rates at the new schools for freedmen were between 79 and 82 percent. Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong created and led Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia in 1868. It is now known as Hampton University.


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.