African American Study Select ONE (1) of the following questions to answer. Make sure to incorporate evidence from this week’s readings to support your arg

African American Study Select ONE (1) of the following questions to answer. Make sure to incorporate evidence from this week’s readings to support your arg

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Select ONE (1) of the following questions to answer. Make sure to incorporate evidence from this week’s readings to support your argument:

  1. One of the core elements of the African American community after the end of slavery was education. Generally, African Americans hungered for learning and placed a high value on education. What evidence supports this claim? Additionally, discuss the various ways that African Americans viewed education in the first 3-4 decades after slavery ended. Make sure to discuss the conflict/disagreement that is seen in the writings of W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. Explain both sides and evaluate how both can be seen as specific strategies and not compromises in light of the restrictions in Jim Crow America.
  2. According to Ida B. Wells, “Our country’s national crime is lynching.” Evaluate this statement. Why and when did African American lynchings become widespread? What was the stated and, perhaps most importantly, underlying purpose of lynching? How did racial terror lynchings shape life for African American communities across the South?


(1899) Rev. D. A. Graham, “Some Facts About Southern Lynchings”

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

Chapter 2 from The book The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois is in the public domain in the United States. UMGC has
modified this work.


Of the Dawn of Freedom

Careless seems the great Avenger;

History’s lessons but record

One death-grapple in the darkness

‘Twixt old systems and the Word;

Truth forever on the scaffold,

Wrong forever on the throne;

Yet that scaffold sways the future,

And behind the dim unknown

Standeth God within the shadow

Keeping watch above His own.


The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,—the relation of the darker

to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea. It was a

phase of this problem that caused the Civil War; and however much they who marched South

and North in 1861 may have fixed on the technical points, of union and local autonomy as a

shibboleth, all nevertheless knew, as we know, that the question of Negro slavery was the real

cause of the conflict. Curious it was, too, how this deeper question ever forced itself to the

surface despite effort and disclaimer. No sooner had Northern armies touched Southern soil than

this old question, newly guised, sprang from the earth,—What shall be done with Negroes?

Peremptory military commands this way and that, could not answer the query; the Emancipation

Proclamation seemed but to broaden and intensify the difficulties; and the War Amendments

made the Negro problems of to-day.

It is the aim of this essay to study the period of history from 1861 to 1872 so far as it relates to

the American Negro. In effect, this tale of the dawn of Freedom is an account of that government

of men called the Freedmen’s Bureau,—one of the most singular and interesting of the attempts

made by a great nation to grapple with vast problems of race and social condition.

The war has naught to do with slaves, cried Congress, the President, and the Nation; and yet no

sooner had the armies, East and West, penetrated Virginia and Tennessee than fugitive slaves

appeared within their lines. They came at night, when the flickering camp-fires shone like vast

unsteady stars along the black horizon: old men and thin, with gray and tufted hair; women with

frightened eyes, dragging whimpering hungry children; men and girls, stalwart and gaunt,—a

horde of starving vagabonds, homeless, helpless, and pitiable, in their dark distress. Two

methods of treating these newcomers seemed equally logical to opposite sorts of minds. Ben

Butler, in Virginia, quickly declared slave property contraband of war, and put the fugitives to

work; while Fremont, in Missouri, declared the slaves free under martial law. Butler’s action was

approved, but Fremont’s was hastily countermanded, and his successor, Halleck, saw things

differently. “Hereafter,” he commanded, “no slaves should be allowed to come into your lines at

all; if any come without your knowledge, when owners call for them deliver them.” Such a

policy was difficult to enforce; some of the black refugees declared themselves freemen, others

showed that their masters had deserted them, and still others were captured with forts and

plantations. Evidently, too, slaves were a source of strength to the Confederacy, and were being

used as laborers and producers. “They constitute a military resource,” wrote Secretary Cameron,

late in 1861; “and being such, that they should not be turned over to the enemy is too plain to

discuss.” So gradually the tone of the army chiefs changed; Congress forbade the rendition of

fugitives, and Butler’s “contrabands” were welcomed as military laborers. This complicated

rather than solved the problem, for now the scattering fugitives became a steady stream, which

flowed faster as the armies marched.

Then the long-headed man with care-chiselled face who sat in the White House saw the

inevitable, and emancipated the slaves of rebels on New Year’s, 1863. A month later Congress

called earnestly for the Negro soldiers whom the act of July, 1862, had half grudgingly allowed

to enlist. Thus the barriers were levelled and the deed was done. The stream of fugitives swelled

to a flood, and anxious army officers kept inquiring: “What must be done with slaves, arriving

almost daily? Are we to find food and shelter for women and children?”

It was a Pierce of Boston who pointed out the way, and thus became in a sense the founder of the

Freedmen’s Bureau. He was a firm friend of Secretary Chase; and when, in 1861, the care of

slaves and abandoned lands devolved upon the Treasury officials, Pierce was specially detailed

from the ranks to study the conditions. First, he cared for the refugees at Fortress Monroe; and

then, after Sherman had captured Hilton Head, Pierce was sent there to found his Port Royal

experiment of making free workingmen out of slaves. Before his experiment was barely started,

however, the problem of the fugitives had assumed such proportions that it was taken from the

hands of the over-burdened Treasury Department and given to the army officials. Already

centres of massed freedmen were forming at Fortress Monroe, Washington, New Orleans,

Vicksburg and Corinth, Columbus, Ky., and Cairo, Ill., as well as at Port Royal. Army chaplains

found here new and fruitful fields; “superintendents of contrabands” multiplied, and some

attempt at systematic work was made by enlisting the able-bodied men and giving work to the


Then came the Freedmen’s Aid societies, born of the touching appeals from Pierce and from

these other centres of distress. There was the American Missionary Association, sprung from the

Amistad, and now full-grown for work; the various church organizations, the National

Freedmen’s Relief Association, the American Freedmen’s Union, the Western Freedmen’s Aid

Commission,—in all fifty or more active organizations, which sent clothes, money, school-

books, and teachers southward. All they did was needed, for the destitution of the freedmen was

often reported as “too appalling for belief,” and the situation was daily growing worse rather than


And daily, too, it seemed more plain that this was no ordinary matter of temporary relief, but a

national crisis; for here loomed a labor problem of vast dimensions. Masses of Negroes stood

idle, or, if they worked spasmodically, were never sure of pay; and if perchance they received

pay, squandered the new thing thoughtlessly. In these and other ways were camp-life and the

new liberty demoralizing the freedmen. The broader economic organization thus clearly

demanded sprang up here and there as accident and local conditions determined. Here it was that

Pierce’s Port Royal plan of leased plantations and guided workmen pointed out the rough way. In

Washington the military governor, at the urgent appeal of the superintendent, opened confiscated

estates to the cultivation of the fugitives, and there in the shadow of the dome gathered black

farm villages. General Dix gave over estates to the freedmen of Fortress Monroe, and so on,

South and West. The government and benevolent societies furnished the means of cultivation,

and the Negro turned again slowly to work. The systems of control, thus started, rapidly grew,

here and there, into strange little governments, like that of General Banks in Louisiana, with its

ninety thousand black subjects, its fifty thousand guided laborers, and its annual budget of one

hundred thousand dollars and more. It made out four thousand pay-rolls a year, registered all

freedmen, inquired into grievances and redressed them, laid and collected taxes, and established

a system of public schools. So, too, Colonel Eaton, the superintendent of Tennessee and

Arkansas, ruled over one hundred thousand freedmen, leased and cultivated seven thousand acres

of cotton land, and fed ten thousand paupers a year. In South Carolina was General Saxton, with

his deep interest in black folk. He succeeded Pierce and the Treasury officials, and sold forfeited

estates, leased abandoned plantations, encouraged schools, and received from Sherman, after that

terribly picturesque march to the sea, thousands of the wretched camp followers.

Three characteristic things one might have seen in Sherman’s raid through Georgia, which threw

the new situation in shadowy relief: the Conqueror, the Conquered, and the Negro. Some see all

significance in the grim front of the destroyer, and some in the bitter sufferers of the Lost Cause.

But to me neither soldier nor fugitive speaks with so deep a meaning as that dark human cloud

that clung like remorse on the rear of those swift columns, swelling at times to half their size,

almost engulfing and choking them. In vain were they ordered back, in vain were bridges hewn

from beneath their feet; on they trudged and writhed and surged, until they rolled into Savannah,

a starved and naked horde of tens of thousands. There too came the characteristic military

remedy: “The islands from Charleston south, the abandoned rice-fields along the rivers for thirty

miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. John’s River, Florida, are reserved and

set apart for the settlement of Negroes now made free by act of war.” So read the celebrated

“Field-order Number Fifteen.”

All these experiments, orders, and systems were bound to attract and perplex the government and

the nation. Directly after the Emancipation Proclamation, Representative Eliot had introduced a

bill creating a Bureau of Emancipation; but it was never reported. The following June a

committee of inquiry, appointed by the Secretary of War, reported in favor of a temporary

bureau for the “improvement, protection, and employment of refugee freedmen,” on much the

same lines as were afterwards followed. Petitions came in to President Lincoln from

distinguished citizens and organizations, strongly urging a comprehensive and unified plan of

dealing with the freedmen, under a bureau which should be “charged with the study of plans and

execution of measures for easily guiding, and in every way judiciously and humanely aiding, the

passage of our emancipated and yet to be emancipated blacks from the old condition of forced

labor to their new state of voluntary industry.”

Some half-hearted steps were taken to accomplish this, in part, by putting the whole matter again

in charge of the special Treasury agents. Laws of 1863 and 1864 directed them to take charge of

and lease abandoned lands for periods not exceeding twelve months, and to “provide in such

leases, or otherwise, for the employment and general welfare” of the freedmen. Most of the army

officers greeted this as a welcome relief from perplexing “Negro affairs,” and Secretary

Fessenden, July 29, 1864, issued an excellent system of regulations, which were afterward

closely followed by General Howard. Under Treasury agents, large quantities of land were

leased in the Mississippi Valley, and many Negroes were employed; but in August, 1864, the

new regulations were suspended for reasons of “public policy,” and the army was again in


Meanwhile Congress had turned its attention to the subject; and in March the House passed a bill

by a majority of two establishing a Bureau for Freedmen in the War Department. Charles

Sumner, who had charge of the bill in the Senate, argued that freedmen and abandoned lands

ought to be under the same department, and reported a substitute for the House bill attaching the

Bureau to the Treasury Department. This bill passed, but too late for action by the House. The

debates wandered over the whole policy of the administration and the general question of

slavery, without touching very closely the specific merits of the measure in hand. Then the

national election took place; and the administration, with a vote of renewed confidence from the

country, addressed itself to the matter more seriously. A conference between the two branches of

Congress agreed upon a carefully drawn measure which contained the chief provisions of

Sumner’s bill, but made the proposed organization a department independent of both the War and

the Treasury officials. The bill was conservative, giving the new department “general

superintendence of all freedmen.” Its purpose was to “establish regulations” for them, protect

them, lease them lands, adjust their wages, and appear in civil and military courts as their “next

friend.” There were many limitations attached to the powers thus granted, and the organization

was made permanent. Nevertheless, the Senate defeated the bill, and a new conference

committee was appointed. This committee reported a new bill, February 28, which was whirled

through just as the session closed, and became the act of 1865 establishing in the War

Department a “Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.”

This last compromise was a hasty bit of legislation, vague and uncertain in outline. A Bureau

was created, “to continue during the present War of Rebellion, and for one year thereafter,” to

which was given “the supervision and management of all abandoned lands and the control of all

subjects relating to refugees and freedmen,” under “such rules and regulations as may be

presented by the head of the Bureau and approved by the President.” A Commissioner, appointed

by the President and Senate, was to control the Bureau, with an office force not exceeding ten

clerks. The President might also appoint assistant commissioners in the seceded States, and to all

these offices military officials might be detailed at regular pay. The Secretary of War could issue

rations, clothing, and fuel to the destitute, and all abandoned property was placed in the hands of

the Bureau for eventual lease and sale to ex-slaves in forty-acre parcels.

Thus did the United States government definitely assume charge of the emancipated Negro as the

ward of the nation. It was a tremendous undertaking. Here at a stroke of the pen was erected a

government of millions of men,—and not ordinary men either, but black men emasculated by a

peculiarly complete system of slavery, centuries old; and now, suddenly, violently, they come

into a new birthright, at a time of war and passion, in the midst of the stricken and embittered

population of their former masters. Any man might well have hesitated to assume charge of such

a work, with vast responsibilities, indefinite powers, and limited resources. Probably no one but a

soldier would have answered such a call promptly; and, indeed, no one but a soldier could be

called, for Congress had appropriated no money for salaries and expenses.

Less than a month after the weary Emancipator passed to his rest, his successor assigned Major-

Gen. Oliver O. Howard to duty as Commissioner of the new Bureau. He was a Maine man, then

only thirty-five years of age. He had marched with Sherman to the sea, had fought well at

Gettysburg, and but the year before had been assigned to the command of the Department of

Tennessee. An honest man, with too much faith in human nature, little aptitude for business and

intricate detail, he had had large opportunity of becoming acquainted at first hand with much of

the work before him. And of that work it has been truly said that “no approximately correct

history of civilization can ever be written which does not throw out in bold relief, as one of the

great landmarks of political and social progress, the organization and administration of the

Freedmen’s Bureau.”

On May 12, 1865, Howard was appointed; and he assumed the duties of his office promptly on

the 15th, and began examining the field of work. A curious mess he looked upon: little

despotisms, communistic experiments, slavery, peonage, business speculations, organized

charity, unorganized almsgiving,—all reeling on under the guise of helping the freedmen, and all

enshrined in the smoke and blood of the war and the cursing and silence of angry men. On May

19 the new government—for a government it really was—issued its constitution; commissioners

were to be appointed in each of the seceded states, who were to take charge of “all subjects

relating to refugees and freedmen,” and all relief and rations were to be given by their consent

alone. The Bureau invited continued cooperation with benevolent societies, and declared: “It will

be the object of all commissioners to introduce practicable systems of compensated labor,” and

to establish schools. Forthwith nine assistant commissioners were appointed. They were to

hasten to their fields of work; seek gradually to close relief establishments, and make the

destitute self-supporting; act as courts of law where there were no courts, or where Negroes were

not recognized in them as free; establish the institution of marriage among ex-slaves, and keep

records; see that freedmen were free to choose their employers, and help in making fair contracts

for them; and finally, the circular said: “Simple good faith, for which we hope on all hands for

those concerned in the passing away of slavery, will especially relieve the assistant

commissioners in the discharge of their duties toward the freedmen, as well as promote the

general welfare.”

No sooner was the work thus started, and the general system and local organization in some

measure begun, than two grave difficulties appeared which changed largely the theory and

outcome of Bureau work. First, there were the abandoned lands of the South. It had long been the

more or less definitely expressed theory of the North that all the chief problems of Emancipation

might be settled by establishing the slaves on the forfeited lands of their masters,—a sort of

poetic justice, said some. But this poetry done into solemn prose meant either wholesale

confiscation of private property in the South, or vast appropriations. Now Congress had not

appropriated a cent, and no sooner did the proclamations of general amnesty appear than the

eight hundred thousand acres of abandoned lands in the hands of the Freedmen’s Bureau melted

quickly away. The second difficulty lay in perfecting the local organization of the Bureau

throughout the wide field of work. Making a new machine and sending out officials of duly

ascertained fitness for a great work of social reform is no child’s task; but this task was even

harder, for a new central organization had to be fitted on a heterogeneous and confused but

already existing system of relief and control of ex-slaves; and the agents available for this work

must be sought for in an army still busy with war operations,—men in the very nature of the case

ill fitted for delicate social work,—or among the questionable camp followers of an invading

host. Thus, after a year’s work, vigorously as it was pushed, the problem looked even more

difficult to grasp and solve than at the beginning. Nevertheless, three things that year’s work did,

well worth the doing: it relieved a vast amount of physical suffering; it transported seven

thousand fugitives from congested centres back to the farm; and, best of all, it inaugurated the

crusade of the New England schoolma’am.

The annals of this Ninth Crusade are yet to be written,—the tale of a mission that seemed to our

age far more quixotic than the quest of St. Louis seemed to his. Behind the mists of ruin and

rapine waved the calico dresses of women who dared, and after the hoarse mouthings of the field

guns rang the rhythm of the alphabet. Rich and poor they were, serious and curious. Bereaved

now of a father, now of a brother, now of more than these, they came seeking a life work in

planting New England schoolhouses among the white and black of the South. They did their

work well. In that first year they taught one hundred thousand souls, and more.

Evidently, Congress must soon legislate again on the hastily organized Bureau, which had so

quickly grown into wide significance and vast possibilities. An institution such as that was well-

nigh as difficult to end as to begin. Early in 1866 Congress took up the matter, when Senator

Trumbull, of Illinois, introduced a bill to extend the Bureau and enlarge its powers. This measure

received, at the hands of Congress, far more thorough discussion and attention than its

predecessor. The war cloud had thinned enough to allow a clearer conception of the work of

Emancipation. The champions of the bill argued that the strengthening of the Freedmen’s Bureau

was still a military necessity; that it was needed for the proper carrying out of the Thirteenth

Amendment, and was a work of sheer justice to the ex-slave, at a trifling cost to the government.

The opponents of the measure declared that the war was over, and the necessity for war measures

past; that the Bureau, by reason of its extraordinary powers, was clearly unconstitutional in time

of peace, and was destined to irritate the South and pauperize the freedmen, at a final cost of

possibly hundreds of millions. These two arguments were unanswered, and indeed

unanswerable: the one that the extraordinary powers of the Bureau threatened the civil rights of

all citizens; and the other that the government must have power to do what manifestly must be

done, and that present abandonment of the freedmen meant their practical reenslavement. The

bill which finally passed enlarged and made permanent the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was promptly

vetoed by President Johnson as “unconstitutional,” “unnecessary,” and “extrajudicial,” and failed

of passage over the veto. Meantime, however, the breach between Congress and the President

began to broaden, and a modified form of the lost bill was finally passed over the President’s

second veto, July 16.

The act of 1866 gave the Freedmen’s Bureau its final form,—the form by which it will be known

to posterity and judged of men. It extended the existence of the Bureau to July, 1868; it

authorized additional assistant commissioners, the retention of army officers mustered out of

regular service, the sale of certain forfeited lands to freedmen on nominal terms, the sale of

Confederate public property for Negro schools, and a wider field of judicial interpretation and

cognizance. The government of the unreconstructed South was thus put very largely in the hands

of the Freedmen’s Bureau, especially as in many cases the departmental military commander was

now made also assistant commissioner. It was thus that the Freedmen’s Bureau became a full-

fledged government of men. It made laws, executed them and interpreted them; it laid and

collected taxes, defined and punished crime, maintained and used military force, and dictated

such measures as it thought necessary and proper for the accomplishment of its varied ends.

Naturally, all these powers were not exercised continuously nor to their fullest extent; and yet, as

General Howard has said, “scarcely any subject that has to be legislated upon in civil society

failed, at one time or another, to demand the action of this singular Bureau.”

To understand and criticise intelligently so vast a work, one must not forget an instant the drift of

things in the later sixties. Lee had surrendered, Lincoln was dead, and Johnson and Congress

were at loggerheads; the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted, the Fourteenth pending, and the

Fifteenth declared in force in 1870. Guerrilla raiding, the ever-present flickering after-flame of

war, was spending its forces against the Negroes, and all the Southern land was awakening as

from some wild dream to poverty and social revolution. In a time of perfect calm, amid willing

neighbors and streaming wealth, the social uplifting of four million slaves to an assured and self-

sustaining place in the body politic and economic would have been a herculean task; but when to

the inherent difficulties of so delicate and nice a social operation were added the spite and hate of

conflict, the hell of war; when suspicion and cruelty were rife, and gaunt Hunger wept beside

Bereavement,—in such a case, the work of any instrument of social regeneration was in large

part foredoomed to failure. The very name of the Bureau stood for a thing in the South which for

two centuries and better men had refused even to argue,—that life amid free Negroes was simply

unthinkable, the maddest of experiments.

The agents that the Bureau could command varied all the way from unselfish philanthropists to

narrow-minded busybodies and thieves; and even though it be true that the average was far better

than the worst, it was the occasional fly that helped spoil the ointment.

Then amid all crouched the freed slave, bewildered between friend and foe. He had emerged

from slavery,—not the worst slavery in the world, not a slavery that made all life unbearable,

rather a slavery that had here and there something of kindliness, fidelity, and happiness,—but

withal slavery, which, so far as human aspiration and desert were concerned, classed the black

man and the ox together. And the Negro knew full well that, whatever their deeper convictions

may have been, Southern men had fought with desperate energy to perpetuate this slavery under

which the black masses, with half-articulate thought, had writhed and shivered. They welcomed

freedom with a cry. They shrank from the master who still strove for their chains; they fled to the

friends that had freed them, even though those friends stood ready to use them as a club for

driving the recalcitrant South back into loyalty. So the cleft between the white and black South

grew. Idle to say it never should have been; it was as inevitable as its results were pitiable.

Curiously incongruous elements were left arrayed against each other,—the North, the

government, the carpet-bagger, and the slave, here; and there, all the South that was white,

whether gentleman or vagabond, honest man or rascal, lawless murderer or martyr to duty.

Thus it is doubly difficult to write of this period calmly, so intense was the feeling, so mighty the

human passions that swayed and blinded men. Amid it all, two figures ever stand to typify that

day to coming ages,—the one, a gray-haired gentleman, whose fathers had quit themselves like

men, whose sons lay in nameless graves; who bowed to the evil of slavery because its abolition

threatened untold ill to all; who stood at last, in the evening of life, a blighted, ruined form, with

hate in his eyes;—and the other, a form hovering dark and mother-like, her awful face black with

the mists of centuries, had aforetime quailed at that white master’s command, had bent in love

over the cradles of his sons and daughters, and closed in death the sunken eyes of his wife,—aye,

too, at his behest had laid herself low to his lust, and borne a tawny man-child to the world, only

to see her dark boy’s limbs scattered to the winds by midnight marauders riding after “damned

Niggers.” These were the saddest sights of that woful day; and no man clasped the hands of these

two passing figures of the present-past; but, hating, they went to their long home, and, hating,

their children’s children live today.

Here, then, was the field of work for the Freedmen’s Bureau; and since, with some hesitation, it

was continued by the act of 1868 until 1869, let us look upon four years of its work as a whole.

There were, in 1868, nine hundred Bureau officials scattered from Washington to Texas, ruling,

directly and indirectly, many millions of men. The deeds of these rulers fall mainly under seven

heads: the relief of physical suffering, the overseeing of the beginnings of free labor, the buying

and selling of land, the establishment of schools, the

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