Private Donations to Settle Freed Slaves

  • Prosperity
  • 1865

At the end of the Civil War, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands to resettle former slaves on empty plots, and otherwise help African Americans uprooted by the conflict. Though it was a poorly managed bureaucracy, the organization nonetheless carried out many crucial tasks—thanks primarily to its private donors. Though federal funding was only $1 million, Northern aid societies, wealthy individuals, black small donors from both the North and the South, and groups like the American Missionary Association collected the modern equivalent of several hundred million dollars for use by the Freedmen’s Bureau. These donations were used in many lifesaving and constructive ways. For instance, they helped reunite separated families, and purchased emergency rations. The donated funds supported 2,700 schools and 3,700 teachers where 150,000 illiterate black children learned to read and write over a five-year period. The giving underwrote legal assistance, helped slaves marry, encouraged the liberated to contract out their labor, and paid the salaries of agents who protected the newly freed from vengeful mobs.

  • Kathleen McCarthy, American Creed (University of Chicago, 2003) p. 198.