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Comparing Views of the Freedmen’s Bureau, 1866

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing


After emancipation and the conclusion of the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau was created to help integrate formerly enslaved persons into American society. It did so in a variety of ways but with a focus on education and training that aimed to enable African Americans to support themselves and their families and become productive citizens. However, there was opposition to the Bureau, both for the perceived wastefulness of some of its programs as well as hardened opposition to its goals of integrating African Americans. The following images depict two perspectives on the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Why was the Freedmen’s Bureau established?
  2. Why were some opposed to the creation of the Bureau?

Figure 1: “Glimpses at the Freedmen—The Freedmen’s Union Industrial School, Richmond, VA” a sketch by Jas E. Taylor, 1866.

Figure 2: 1866 poster attacking the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Comprehension Questions

  1. (Figure 1) What are the ladies of the Freedmen’s Bureau doing in this picture?
  2. (Figure 1) How would you describe the manner and actions of the African American women in this sketch?
  3. (Figure 1) What goal(s) did a class like this one serve for the Freedmen’s Bureau?
  4. (Figure 1) For what purpose do you believe this picture was created and published?
  5. (Figure 2) The caricatured African American figure in this cartoon is meant to represent the life of African Americans in general under the Freedmen’s Bureau. What does the cartoonist want the reader to believe about African American life?
  6. (Figure 2) There are white figures in the foreground and background on the left side of the cartoon. What are they portrayed as doing?
  7. (Figure 2) How does the cartoonist want the reader to connect the images of the white men on the left with the African American figure at the center of the cartoon?
  8. (Figure 2) What conclusion does the cartoonist want the reader to come to about the Freedmen’s Bureau?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. What are some economic challenges that were created by the abolition of slavery?
  2. What social and political questions emerged from the emancipation of slavery?

Image 1:

Image 2: