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Historical Insights The Freedmen’s Bureau

In five tumultuous years, the Freedmen’s Bureau was shut down and left the South. African Americans lost most of the rights they’d temporarily gained and the Freedmen’s Bureau protected, including the right to vote. 1868, American South. Credit: Stock Montage/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Freedmen’s Bureau

In 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau opened offices across the American South, charged with the mission of incorporating formerly enslaved African Americans into free society.

After the American Civil War, the U.S. government established the Freedmen’s Bureau to assist the South in transitioning to a free society. In 1865, offices were established across the South aiding in feeding, housing, educating, and empowering freed African Americans. Despite being underfunded and understaffed, the bureau negotiated fair labor contracts, legalized marriages, and built thousands of schools and colleges where millions of African Americans learned to read and write. However, Southern whites violently resisted the changes through terrorism and institutional discrimination-vigilante groups and the Black Codes, a series of laws limiting African Americans’ rights—proved a fatal blow. Lacking the military might to defend itself and African Americans, the bureau was dissolved by 1870, leaving millions of African Americans to fend for themselves in a brand new society that feared their freedom.