On March 3, 1865, the War Department of the United States established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands; it has since come to be known as the Freedmen’s Bureau (National Archives 2021). Facing the aftermath of the Civil War and the havoc it wreaked on the American economic system, President Andrew Johnson worked alongside Congress to create the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was a federal agency that was established for the purpose of promoting the social welfare of the recently freed population of enslaved African Americans (Hatfield 2020).
On February 22, 1867, First Lieutenant and General Superintendent of Education in New Orleans, F. R. Chase, wrote to Captain William H. Sterling, the acting Adjunct General, reporting on difficulties in the Educational Department, which was overseen by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau). Chase’s letter complains of one of the department’s agents, A. D. McCoy, who had a tendency to overstep the bounds of his position. McCoy claimed authority over the district’s schools and the teachers appointed to them. However, the Superintendent or the Assistant Commissioner were responsible for these duties (Trudeau 1978, 2-3). Complicating matters, McCoy was a former Confederate and seemed to value religious preaching above his obligations as an educator.
In the heart of Harlem, on Malcolm X Boulevard between 135th and 136th Street, stands the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture. As one of the research branches within the New York Public Library system, it is “one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences” (NYPL 2021, para. 1). New York Public Library purchased the materials from the personal collection of self-described “bibliophile” Arturo Alfonso Schomburg in 1926, who was later appointed curator of the collection (NYPL 2021). One of the lesser-known people involved in the birth of the Schomburg Collection was Catherine Latimer, the reference librarian for the collection and NYPL’s very first Black librarian.