Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What was the Freedmen's Bureau?

The Freedmen's Bureau was a federal department that was created by Congress to "supervise the transition from slavery to freedom on southern plantations" (Davidson 484). Only 550 agents were assigned to supervise this transition in the South. The agents created contracts between many "white planters and black laborers, specifying not only wages but also the conditions of the employment" (Davidson 485). The goal was to protect blacks from discrimination and unfair treatment in the workplace. As with any other federal program, however, many agents "were tools of the planter class" (Davidson 485). The Bureau enforced the contracts through the Freedmen's Courts: "These new courts functioned as military tribunals, and often the agent was the entire court" (Davidson 485). By 1872, the Freedmen's Bureau was dissolved.

The Freedmen's Bureau's work in the South also led to increased educational opportunities for blacks. The Bureau set up various educational institutions in the South which would later be replaced by public schools. They also trained teachers to work in the South. By 1869, "most of the 3,000 teachers in freedmen's schools were black" (Davidson 483).

Davidson, James, Brian Delay, Christine Heyrman, Mark Lytle, and Michael Stoff, Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic Volume II: Since 1865. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

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