Mission to the Freedman

Freedmen's Bureau

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established by Congress in March 1865 to help the transition from slavery to freedom in the South. Under the War Department, the Bureau was backed by military force, thus making the Bureau one of the most powerful tools for Reconstruction.

General Oliver O. Howard was the Bureau’s first commissioner. He organized the ex-slave states into 10 districts, each headed by an assistant commissioner. The work of the Bureau consisted of basic social reconstruction for the newly freed blacks and the destitute whites after the war. The areas of focus included the provision of food, shelter, and medical aid for those ravaged by the war, the education of freed people, the establishment of free labor arrangements in former plantation areas, and the securing of justice for blacks in southern legal proceedings.

The Freedmen’s Bureau ended when control of Reconstruction shifted from the national level and was placed under the direction of the new state governments which began a process of restoring the old order and the myth of Southern racial harmony. The Bureau was fully operational until December 1868 and disbanded in 1872.

The Commission of Home Missions to Colored People

After the Civil War, many emancipated African Americans left the white-dominated churches in the South for other largely black denominations. Black clergy were vocal in expressing to the House of Bishops in 1865 their dismay at the lack of employment opportunities and their treatment as aliens in the Church. The Protestant Episcopal Freedman’s Aid Commission was created in 1865 to help stem this tide and keep African Americans within the Episcopal Church. The name of the commission was changed to the Commission of Home Missions to Colored People in 1868 to emphasize its evangelical focus. 

To accomplish its goal, the Commission established schools and introduced a program of practical and religious instruction to meet the spiritual and social needs of those who had been enslaved. Additionally, educational institutions were created to prepare African Americans for the ministry. One of these institutions, St. Augustine’s Normal School in Raleigh, North Carolina, still exists today as St. Augustine’s College.The Commission formally dissolved in 1878 for several reasons, chief among them being the opposition of southern whites, decreasing revenue, and northern white aversion. Its duties were assigned to the Board of Missions. [Sources]