Freedman's Bureau Analysis

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In May 1865, less than one month after the death of President Lincoln, the Freedman’s Bureau was established (DuBois Souls 21). The need for such an agency grew out of a “national crisis” of destitution and atrocious living conditions among freed slaves. The squalid reality of African Americans was exacerbated by violent terrorism (Coates 19-21). Deep racism and years of neglect resulted in lack of access to political agency, education, and the economic management skills required for self-sufficiency (Souls 17-18, 28; Balfour 26-28). Black people existed in an ambiguous and violent space between a citizen and a slave (Balfour 28). While legally free, former slaves were not allowed to exercise their freedom. In the south, they were driven from…show more content…
This need led “radical republicans” in the government to establish an authority committed to the “improvement, protection, and employment of refugee freedmen” (Coates, 20, Souls 19). The initial purpose of the Freedman’s Bureau was vast in scope. The Bureau’s charge was to serve as the central agency providing assistance in “all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen” (21). These duties included: immediate war relief (clothes, food, fuel), creating systems of regulated labor and fair contracting, building schools and hospitals, serving as an alternative law and court system, re-instituting legal marriage among African Americans, distributing property confiscated from southern plantation owners to freedmen, and keeping records of it all (20-22). The Freedmen’s Bureau was an attempt to provide for the neglected societal needs accumulated over 200 years of slavery. Education, financial literacy, land ownership, suffrage, employment, and health care were offered widely to the African American population for the first time in the history of the United States. Du Bois called this project, “America’s chance to be a modern democracy” and “The most extraordinary and far-reaching institution of social uplift that America has ever attempted” (DuBois in Shapiro 13 and Balfour…show more content…
This unfinished work lies largely in the problem of reigning white supremacy perpetuated by the psychological and financial wages of whiteness, the cross-class alliance, and colorblind policies (Olsen 70,76). The historical counterpart fought for the abolition of slavery, advocates of abolition-democracy seek the abolition of white citizenship and elimination of “racial privileges” (Olson 126-7). The post-civil rights era is plagued with problematic colorblind policies that appear to promote equality, but do nothing to actually achieve it – much in the same way that emancipation did not achieve freedom immediately post-civil war (76). Abolition-democracy focuses on increased political participation, redistribution of wealth and reparations, and embraces an explicit mission to challenge structural inequalities – much like the Freedmen’s Bureau did (129,141). However, the Freedmen’s Bureau work was tragically cut short and it was not able to mend the relationship between ex-master and ex-slave. The Freedmen’s Bureau represented a new institution, rising to reconstruct democracy for Black folks. Because the mission was never realized, and the promising institutions dissolved, African Americans were once again subject to new forms of systemic oppression (Davis AD 73). Abolition-democracy
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