Reconstruction Memorial By: Melanie Hillelsohn

The Freedmen's Bureau, was a government agency established in 1865 to aid freed slaves during reconstruction in the South in attempt to change their society that ruled the former Confederacy. It was the only agency with an existing organization that could be assigned to the South. But, their efforts proved very difficult, as Southern legislatures passed Black Codes that restricted movement, conditions of labor, and other civil rights of African Americans. So, how did the government agencies that were established to aid the process of reconstruction through integration influence its legacy and effectiveness? Despite their efforts, government agencies were ultimately not accepted in the south and therefore did little to aid the failing efforts of reconstruction.

The freedmen's bureau provided funds for the construction of schools. In some cases it paid the salaries of teachers. It founded teacher’s colleges and universities. It transported many teachers from the North into Southern communities. These schools gave blacks new opportunities and provided a space for them to learn and grow without oppression preventing their learning environment from being beneficial. This was a unique and vital resource for blacks now free from slavery as they attempted to join society.

The freedmen's bureau did ultimately aim to defend the blacks from southern ideas of superiority, but it had many weak areas. Also working against the Bureau was its limited funding and inadequate resources. Congress appropriated absolutely no money for it during its first year so it relied solely on the army for financial support. President Johnson’s opposition to the Bureau severely limited its effectiveness and encouraged Southern whites to challenge or ignore it. This lead to many uprisings and rebellions. Fires were set to black schools and African Americans were threatened as well as physically assaulted. They were very singled out as opposed to integrated into society.

Despite limitations, historians agree that the Freedmen’s Bureau played a significant role in the lives of the ex-slaves in post civil war times. The Freedman’s Bureau negotiated and enforced labor contracts between the black laborers employed by white landowners. It helped to locate missing relatives and adjudicated custody disputes among freed men and women. It saw to it that the ex-bondsmen received justice in Bureau courts when justice was not available in state or local courts. The Bureau served as the freedmen’s overall counterbalance to white power.

The Freedmen's Bureau was a great attempt to aid reconstruction and attempt post-war integration. Unfortunately, their lack of authority and funding earned them little respect and their efforts were easily overlooked. They were also functioning in a place where they were not wanted and the southerners rejected and resisted them. This is similar to many other current government agencies fighting for amazing causes. Certain environmental agencies like the EPA are experiencing budget cuts that ultimately cut their effectiveness. Also, large corporations working together can dampen their efforts immensely. The under-funding of the Freedmen's Bureau and groups like the KKK and mobs of southerners represent great correlations- to this current situation.


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