Established in 1865, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands
opened as a service agency in the American South. The point of the bureau, which
Southern Democrats heavily opposed, was to assist newly freed people in
acclimating to a new society. Agentsand soldiers enforced the rules of a free labor
economy, including ensuring that wages were paid, indentures were not abused, and
that schooling, worship and voting could take place. What the agency was not
expecting is the amount of violence against African Americans that permeated
throughout the South in the period. Along the Red River, whites considered this
agency to be part of the occupation force and generally, planters saw the freedom
afforded to their former slaves as illegitimate. Countless people were beaten,
kidnapped, raped, and outright murdered. The bureau was overwhelmed by the
sheer amount of violence. Joe Easely, a unionist from Hopkins County (Texas)
described in 1868 that "the reign of terror is set up in this county... the history of the
darkest ages of the world does not, in my estimation, afford a parallel." Law
enforcement and other government officials, such as post masters and mayors, were
comprised of Ku Klux Klan members, making any attempts at justice impossible.
In the 1920s, renowned historian W. E. B. DuBois lauded the Bureau as an effective
agency that could have brought about real social change, but white resistance and
the highly polarized Congress and Executive office ultimately led to the Freedmen's
Bureau's demise. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the renewal of the agency in
1866, which allowed the Ku Klux Klan's power to grow unchecked. General William
Tecumseh Sherman promoted land redistribution to newly freed people, but
Congress instead restored ownership of abandoned and confiscated lands to the
white planters, even though they had participated in treasonous actions. The white
power structure that lorded over the South before the war fought tooth and nail to
hold onto the reins after the war; this included intimidation, confiscation of firearms,
arson, re-enslavement, and other unconstitutional conduct.
Following are examples from correspondence and other records generated by and
for the Freedmen's Bureau that describes some instances of the continued
brutalization of African Americans after the Civil War ended.
|An important agency in the post-Civil War period with a purpose of social reform,
the Freedmen's Bureau ultimately failed due to racism and white supremacism.
In Natchitoches, the Freedmen's Bureau office was located at the corner of
Touline and Jefferson streets. (Henry Camie Research Center, Northwestern
|From the Shreveport Bureau: "First Baptist Church,
Colored People, Shreveport La., December 3st, 69.
Requests assistance to the amount of two hundred
and fifty dollars to erect a school house and a
church. Have a small building on leased land but
are liable to be ejected there from if they do not vote
to suit the owner thereof. etc etc."
|From April 1868: Maj. Geo.
Sharkley, Sub-Asst, Clarksville
"Major: I have the honor to
acknowledge the receipt of
your report of the murder of Mr.
W. H. Kirkman at Boston, Texas
and am directed by the Asst.
Commissioners to request you
to hold his effects until they
can be taken by the family of
the deceased .Copies of the
papers have been furnished to
J. T. Kirman, brother of the
deceased. Accounts for
expenses incurred in his burial
will be sent you by the A. A. G.
M for our certificate."
Jefferson, August 26, 1868
Hon. E. M. Pease, Austin
Last Friday night about 1 O'clock, Albert Browning (a Freedman), one of the quiet
inoffensive citizens of our city, was taken out from his bed and in the presence of
his wife and little children, his hands tied behind him and after being robbed of
his money and many articles of wearing apparel, also a gun, pistol and his horse,
was led a short distance from his house and shot through the head, five balls
taking effect, evidently simultaneously from different guns or pistols --- as but
one report was heard. From there they proceeded to the African church, tied their
horses and entered the enclosure and commenced breaking down the door,
whereupon some Freedmen who were there guarding their church fired upon
them, and they ingloriously fled, and in their confusion they dropped the gun and
pistol they had taken from Browning, and some other articles of value --- also
Browning's horse was left tied to a stake. Since that time our city has been in a
blaze of excitement, not so much on account of the assassination as from the
assemblage of Freedmen at their church every night for the purpose of protecting
their property, which is certainly their right, since the civil authorities fail to do it.
They go to their church, enter the enclosure, fasten their gates and remain very
quiet, interrupting no one, not wishing to interfere with any one, provided they
are left unmolested ----
On Monday night the excitement became most intense. Mounted men well armed
were riding through this city swearing vengeance against the Freedmen at the
church. The citizens called a meeting and the crowd was harangued by excited
orators. D. B. Culverson, I was informed by a gentleman of undoubted veracity
and who was present, attacked D. Campbell, said he had organized the Loyal
League here, and that such men were accountable for all this excitement and
should be held accountable for anything that might happen, etc., etc., and was
generally very bitter against Radicals, and all this in a public harangue to a then
infuriated crowd, at a time when Campbell had been compelled to leave his house
and come to town and conceal himself as best he could at night to save his life
---- night after night his house was surrounded by armed men, attempted to
decoy him out by professions of friendship, assuming the names of his friends,
forced Freedmen from their houses and ordered them to entice Campbell out and
because they refused, tortured them by putting their heads under corners of
fences and keeping them until life was almost extinct. I could give you many
other instances of torture for similar purposes. ---- The civil law is a blank here,
protection we must have soon or else all Union men ---- I mean loyal men will
have to leave this country. Matters are growing worse every day --- hundred of
negroes are now preparing to move to Louisiana, and I believe eventually all of
them will leave this section. We need a squad of Cavalry --- say 25 or 30, for the
men who are committing these deeds of horror are mounted men and Infantry can
never overtake them. Two mounted men dashed boldly into town yesterday and
robbed a Freedman's horse and was gone in a few minutes. The civil officers
started on foot to arrest them but they never ---- saw them ---- Hoping we may
have protection soon.
I am, Very Respectfully, Your Obedt. Servt., (sgd) W. H. Johnson
From Freedmen Bureau's Reports in Texas:
Sulphur Springs, Hopkins County, Texas (1868)
Grayson and Fannin Counties, Texas (1866)
- "Minerva James was taken out of the house of Mr. Herman Spencer... by five
armed men, carried about one mile, and brutally murdered. You would say it
was the most horrid murder you ever heard of."
- Charles Grimes, "the old freeman who was on the Board of Registrars" was
murdered June 1st.
- Ben Bikestaff recruited "16 to 18 men... armed with double barreled guns and
six shooters" and stole a supply train from P. A. Turk, the wagon Master.
- "A man by the name of Flowers" was "taken out of his house at night and
killed. The next day a party of men were carrying him to the burying ground,
whey they were fired into and one man and a little boy killed, and another
man dangerously wounded, receiving a shot through the lungs. No doctor will
attend the wounded man; his name is Jesse Starr."
- "A freedman" was "taken out of Buck Thomas' kitchen and carried out on the
prairie and killed."
- All freedmen "Have been robbed of every thing of the least value - even taking
the under dressing of freed women, their bed clothes... and then driven into
- Everett Jackson "was shot and killed dead... as he walked out of his house."
- Luke Starr, while being held by his mother and sisters, was killed when a
white mob terrorized the family. "One of the party put a double barrel gun
against him and hurled him into eternity. This makes a final disposition of the
Starr family, except females."
- Monroe White, Jim Douglass and Jack Thomas (freedmen) shot and cut to
pieces - Grayson County.
- Tom Dunkley hauled wood to Sherman, was shot and killed by a Guerrilla.
- Jack Web, riding in a company of a white man in the direction of Kentucky
Town, was found shot and mangled very much.
- Thomas Daniels (freedman) while working on Isom Daniels land (former
master), was ordered by John Dumas to do work for him. Upon refusal, Dumas
shot Thomas Daniels. "The authorities here have not taken any notice of the
- Jack Stone was shot by a white man "who wanted to know if he knew how to
treat a white man? Why don't you raise your hat then?" Killer said he had a
gang for the purpose of "killing niggers."
- Gang in Fannin County fired into a crowd of freedmen and killed three and
wounded quite a number. An effort was made to arrest the party but failed.
These men are still in the County fearless of any consequence.
- Bill William in Bonham was robbed in his house, tried to escape, was shot in
the side. Has since died.
|The Freedmen's Bureau
recorded complaints of
workers not receiving their
wages, but attempts at
collecting the money often
failed. This is a stolen wages
report from the Bureau in
From Freedmen Bureau's Reports in Arkansas:
Capt. Cole at Camden reports July 31st 1866 of Union County. "I find affairs there
deplorable in the extreme. Several Freedmen have been murdered under
circumstances of great atrocity; others on the laying by of crops in which they were
interested as remuneration for their labor, have been run away from their homes
and their lives threatened if they returned or made complaint of it to this office. The
feeling there against the Freedmen is most intense and bitter. In confirmation of
these facts I have on file many affidavits containing testimony of the most
incontrovertible characters." Again, Sept. 30th, Capt. Cole reports: "There will in my
opinion be very little chance for Freedmen to get their first dues from planters,
unless they are compelled to come to the office of the Supt. when the settlement
takes place. The people persist in trying to defraud the freedmen in every
Outrages, assaults and murders committed upon the persons of Freedmen and
women are being continually reported from nearly all sections of the States and a
decided want of a disposition to punish the offenders apparently exists with the
local civil officers and in the minds of the people. There have been (52) fifty-two
murders of freed persons by white men in this state reported to this office in the
past three or four months and no reports have been received that the murderers
have been imprisoned or punished.
In some parts of the State, particularly in the Southeast and Southwest, Freedmen's
lives are threatened if they report their wrongs to the Agent of this Bureau, and in
many instances the parties making reports are missed and never heard of
afterwards. It is believed that the number of murders above reported is not half the
number actually committed during the time mentioned.
Synopsis of Murder &c. Committed in Parishes of Caddo and Bossier September
and October 1868
Parishes of Bossier and Caddo
- Information has been received that Henry Jones, Freedman, one of the leaders
on the intended riot in Bossier Parish on or about September 20th was taken
from his home and shot that he was then placed upon a brush pile which was
fired and was then left by his intended murderers who supposed him to be
dead after their departure he succeeded in crawling off but not before he was
- Also under date of September 20th that Freedmen in northern part of Parishes
are constantly being taken from their homes by desperadoes and either being
killed or forced to leave their homes, crops and everything they possess, that
no laws of any kind are enforced, that on Sept. 29th at Shady Grove plantation
in Bossier Parish about 8 miles from Shreveport a riot occurred caused by the
lawless acts of desperadoes in which (2) two white men were shot and
mortally wounded. Thirteen (13) freedmen and one (1) freedwoman killed and
(2) two freedmen wounded. Latter advices in regard to the Bossier troubles
state that some 8 or 10 freedmen more than the above reported were killed by
the Arkansas Desperadoes and that after their departure the citizens of Bossier
and the friends of the two murdered white men have been in constant pursuit
of all freedmen implicated in the murder of the two whites and have killed all
whom they have caught, from all the information that can be gleaned the
number of freedmen killed, of which there are various statements, will reach
(100) one hundred at least. It would be a matter of impossibility to ascertain
the names of the killed or for an investigation to be made. Anyone that would
attempt the task would share the fate of the rioting negroes.
- At Shreveport on October 16th a colored man named Robert Gray was shot
and killed by a white man named Charles Wasson in a store on Texas St. The
body of a negro was also found floating in Red River the same day in a far
advanced state of decomposition.
Near Sabine Parish (Fort Jessup)
January 25, 1868
Charles (Sam) Wilson, freedman, murdered by William Winn, Joseph Lynch, Henry
Duke and the tow sons of Mr.? and a stranger from Texas. Reported that these
person lynched or executed Plaintiff for committing a rape on a white girl. Men
were summoned to give testimony, no resolution.
January 2nd, 1870
Respectfully forwarded. These people are subject to humiliating restrictions. They
have in a sense, almost to go back into bondage in order to educate their children
and worship God. I hope the Commissioner can see his way clear to approve their
request for the amount asked. I will see that the proper deeds are made so as to
secure the property forever for the purpose intended. Is the principal Baptist
Chruch in the County has considerable influence in this region around about - am
certain assistance in the amount asked would we wisdom. During the election
Massacre last year they ordered the friends of the Conf (?) marked assistance
(sgd) James McClury, Captain U.S.A.
|African American children were
sometimes kidnapped by whites to
force them to work. Often, the
kidnappers were the one-time slavers
of the children's parents or
grandparents. This letter from the
Bureau demands the return of a child,
taken in Boston (Bowie Count, Texas)
in 1867: Sir, you are hereby ordered to
be & appear at this office and produce
the child Julia (col'd) on Monday, Nov
11 1867 at 1 pm to answer to the
compaint of Sandy Mingoe (Fm col'd)
of having his grandchild Julia bound
without his consent also of forceably
taking the child from him.
|The Bureau also
paid for teachers in
Schools. This ledger
is from the Bureau