freedmens bureau

Five Things To Know: HBCU Edition

Historically black colleges and universities––commonly called “HBCUs”––are defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 as,

“…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education]…”


Photo: Portrait of a Mississippi Vocational College cheerleader, ca. 1950s, Gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

1. The first colleges for African Americans were established largely through the efforts of black churches with the support of the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau. The second Morrill Act of 1890 required states—especially former confederate states—to provide land-grants for institutions for black students if admission was not allowed elsewhere. As a result, many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were founded.

2. Between 1861 and 1900 more than 90 institutions of higher learning were established. Shaw University––founded in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1865––was the first black college organized after the Civil War. Other schools include: Talladega College, Howard University, Morehouse College and Hampton University.


Photo:  An 1899 class in mathematical geography studying earth’s rotation around the sun, Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia, Library of Congress.

3. Early HBCUs were established to train teachers, preachers and other community members. During the 20th century, many HBCUs shifted their focus to promote scholarship among African Americans. Academic councils, conferences and founded scholastic journals to showcase black intellectual thought. Such notable figures as W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. attended an historically black college or university.


4. HBCUs opened the door of educational opportunity for many African Americans who were once legally denied an education. Additionally, these schools, provided African American students with a nurturning environment to explore their collective identities and cultures.

5. Today, HBCUs uphold a history of scholarship pursued by African Americans in the face of adversity.


Slavery records will soon be easily searchable online.

Millions of African Americans will soon be able to trace their families through the era of slavery, some to the countries from which their ancestors were snatched, thanks to a new and free online service that is digitizing a huge cache of federal records for the first time.

Handwritten records collecting information on newly freed slaves that were compiled just after the civil war will be available for easy searches through a new website, it was announced on Friday.

The records belong to the Freedmen’s Bureau, an administrative body created by Congress in 1865 to assist slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia transition into free citizenship.

Before that time, slaves were legally regarded as property in the US and their names were not officially documented. They often appeared only as dash marks – even on their owners’ records.

African Americans trying to trace family history today regularly hit the research equivalent of a brick wall prior to 1870, when black people were included in the US census for the first time.

(read the full post »here at


March 3rd 1865: Freedmen’s Bureau established

On this day in 1865, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands - known as the Freedmen’s Bureau - was established upon the passage of the Freedmen’s Bureau Act. Union victory was not yet assured, and Confederate surrender was still a month off, but by this point the Emancipation Proclamation had freed slaves in the Confederacy and the Thirteenth Amendment was making its way through Congress. Lincoln thus resolved to begin to provide protection for the four million freed slaves of the South. The Bureau, originally intended to last for only a year, provided food, housing, medical aid, schooling, and legal assistance to the freedmen. It also initially attempted to provide freedmen with their main demand after emancipation - land they could cultivate and be self-sufficient and beholden to no master. Unfortunately this goal was largely never realised, and most former slaves continued to toil on plantations for their old masters, working for a share of the crop and low wages. The Bureau also became embroiled in the political struggles of the day, causing an irreparable rift between the executive and Congress when President Andrew Johnson vetoed a bill extending its life. Congress overrode the President’s veto, beginning a conflict that would result in Johnson becoming the President with the most overriden vetoes in history. Throughout its life, the Bureau was plagued by a lack of personnel, funds, and support from the President, and struggled in the face of violent white opposition to Reconstruction policies and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The Bureau closed in 1872, and historians still debate its affect on the Reconstruction South and how much it helped the freedmen.

150 years ago today

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established by the federal government in March of 1865 to care for former slaves. Howard Hall, on the Berea College campus, was one of the many buildings paid for by the agency, and this letter to Professor J.A.R. Rogers is one of thousands from the Freedmen’s Bureau in Kentucky.  The Bureau was abolished in 1872. The Kentucky State Archives has in its collection 17 rolls of microfilm, which include labor contracts, correspondence, and worker’s rosters.

Source: Letter to J.A.R. Rogers, January 16th, 1871. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau) – Correspondence – Press Copies of Letters Sent. Archives and Records Management Division – Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.

Martin Delany - Black Nationalism
May 6, 1812 – January 24, 1885

Martin Robison Delany was an African-American abolitionist, journalist, physician, and writer, arguably the first proponent of black nationalism; Martin Delany is considered to be the grandfather of Black nationalism. He was also one of the first three blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School. Trained as an assistant and a physician, he treated patients during the cholera epidemics of 1833 and 1854 in Pittsburgh, when many doctors and residents fled the city. He worked alongside Frederick Douglass to publish the North Star. Active in recruiting blacks for the United States Colored Troops, he was commissioned as a major, the first African-American field officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War.

After the Civil War, he worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau in the South, settling in South Carolina, where he became politically active. He ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor and was appointed a Trial Judge. Later he switched his party loyalty and worked for the campaign of Democrat Wade Hampton III, who won the 1876 election for governor.

In 1859 and 1862, as a response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Delany published parts of Blake: Or The Huts of America in serialized form. His novel portrayed an insurrectionist’s travels through slave communities. He believed that Stowe had portrayed slaves as too passive, although he praised her highlighting the cruelty of Southern slave owners. Modern scholars have praised Delany’s novel as an accurate interpretation of black culture. The first half of Part One was serialized in The Anglo-African Magazine, January to July 1859. The rest of Part One was included in serial form in the Weekly Anglo African Magazine from 1861-1862. This was the first novel by a black man to be published in the United States.[citation needed]

Early life and education
Delany was born free in Charles Town, West Virginia (then part of Virginia, a slave state) to Pati and Samuel Delaney. Although his father Samuel was enslaved, his mother was a free woman, and Martin took her status under slave law. Both sets of Martin Delany’s grandparents were African. Delaney’s paternal grandparents were of Gola ethnicity (from modern-day Liberia), taken captive during warfare and brought as slaves to the Virginia colony. Family oral history said that the grandfather was a chieftain, escaped to Canada for a period, and died resisting slavery abuses.

Pati’s parents were born in the Niger Valley, west Africa, and were of Mandinka ethnicity. Her father was said to have been a prince named Shango, captured with his betrothed Graci and brought to America as slaves. After some time, they were given their freedom in Virginia, perhaps based on their noble birth. Shango returned to Africa. Graci stayed in America with their only daughter Pati. When Delany was just a few years old, attempts were made to enslave him and a sibling. Their mother Pati carried her two youngest children 20 miles to the courthouse in Winchester to argue successfully for her family’s freedom based on her own free birth.

As he was growing up, Delany and his siblings learned to read and write using The New York Primer and Spelling Book, given to them by a peddler. Virginia prohibited education of black people. When the book was discovered in September 1822, Pati took her children out of Virginia to Chambersburg in the free state of Pennsylvania to ensure their continued freedom. They had to leave their father Samuel, but a year later he bought his freedom and rejoined the family in Chambersburg.

In Chambersburg, the young Delany continued learning. Occasionally he left school to work when his family could not afford for his education to continue. In 1831, at the age of 19, he journeyed west to the growing city of Pittsburgh, where he became a barber and laborer. Having heard stories about his parents’ ancestors, he wanted to visit Africa, which he considered his spiritual home. Martin Delaney and 3 other people were accepted into Harvard Medical School but, white students had a petition so the African Americans were not accepted into the school.

Photo:  Wikipedia