Authored by Lanisha LeBlanc
In the Year 1865, the amorphousness of America following the emancipation of enslaved people left those in power to determine what to do with the individuals whom it was no longer legal to exploit for free labor. Within this decision, the freedmen’s bureau was formed, which entailed providing necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing, for the Southerns displaced ensuing the new law of prohibiting the ownership of African people (United States Senate, n.d.).
One of the states which fell victim to the economic and social chaos that plagued America following emancipation was Alabama. In October of 1866, the assistant commissioner of Alabama issued an annual report detailing how the Freedmen’s Bureau act was running. Included were observations made of the public reactions regarding the newfound freedom of formerly enslaved people, along with the reactions the formerly enslaved individuals had themselves. It is said within this document that citizens of Alabama planned an insurrection, whereas the formerly enslaved refused to work due to the trauma they had endured throughout their time being held captive. Labor was a thing of the past, something that signified entrapment and violence and therefore, was no longer a requirement or deemed desirable with their newfound freedom. The public’s resistance towards the state providing these vulnerable individuals with the same rations, based on their delusion of grandeur, along with the failing crops and livestock that were no longer being kept by the free labor of enslaved Africans, appeared to be stressful to the assistant commissioner.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was an act that, like many other initiatives and organizations that were founded on Christian values, (Dangar and Noe 2013, 240-41) served with the purpose of helping the underprivileged, most vulnerable population at the time, which were the formerly enslaved and refugees. Providing these displaced people with the bare necessities found through accommodation of turning shelters into educational facilities and payments from those who can afford it, all while juggling smallpox and cholera outbreaks had proved to be rough according to this notice. Although there seems to be a lack of nuance throughout this report (Alabama assistant commissioner, Annual report to the assistant commissioner, October, 1866), with the Alabama assistant commissioner meticulously leaving out specific details of the brutal violence that may have been occurring behind the scenes towards these freedmen carried out by white citizens, there is a benefit in the tone of this notice presenting the audience with a clear aspect of the biases those in power had regarding these vulnerable individuals in the antebellum south.
Nevertheless, this document provides a clear reflection on the Vincentian tradition by highlighting the accommodations and sacrifices made by the state despite the financial instabilities imposed upon Alabama following emancipation. The reports of mistakes and unfortunate losses regarding the lives of these freedmen only to become lessons learned for improvements, shows the dedication Alabama had to ameliorate living standards of the less fortunate.
Belz, Herman. 1997. Abraham Lincoln, Constitutionalism, and Equal Rights During the Civil War Era. The North’s Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press USA. https://jerome.stjohns.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=16238&site=ehost-live.
Dubois, W.E.B. 1901. “The Freedmen’s Bureau.” The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1901/03/the-freedmens-bureau/308772/
History. 2010. “Freedmen’s Bureau”. History. Last modified October 3, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/freedmens-bureau
National Archives Microfilm publications. 1866. “Annual Report of the Assistant Commissioner.” Freedmen’s Bureau, October 1866. https://transcription.si.edu/view/35405/NMAAHC-007677221_00357
Noe, Kenneth W, and Erin Bradley Dangar. 2013. The Yellowhammer War: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University Alabama Press.
United States Senate. n.d. “Freedmen’s Bureau Acts of 1865 and 1866”. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/FreedmensBureau.htm