The role of the Freedmen Bureau in African-American development during the Reconstruction era has been a polarizing topic since the Bureau’s inception. While most concur that the Bureau was well intended, some scholars, believe that the Freedmen’s Bureau was detrimental to African-American development. One such scholar was W.E.B. Dubois, who in his book The Souls of Black Folk, expressed his discontent with the actions of the Bureau and suggested that the Bureau did more harm than good. Upon further probing, research refutes the position that the Freedmen’s Bureau was chiefly detrimental to Black development. While far from flawless in its pursuits to assist the newly freed Negroes, the actions of the Freedmen’s Bureau did not impede African-American progress; instead, these actions facilitated African-American development.
The Bureau for Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was created with the passage of the Freedmen’s Bureau Act on March 3, 1865 (United States). The bill, which was supported by Abraham Lincoln as well as Radical Republicans in Congress, faced a great deal of opposition from Southern states and passed with only a two vote majority (Dubois). The bill is intentionally vague in order to allow leniency in its implementation. The flexibility provided by refraining from outlining specific programs was intended to benefit the freedmen by allowing the program to mold and fit his needs (Colby).
Though flexibility in the Freedmen’s Bureau allowed the Bureau to attempt to solve many different problems, Dubois found fault with all sections of the Freedmen’s save the education sector. Dubois labeled the Bureau, “ one of the most singular and interesting of the attempts of a great nation to grapple with the vast problems of race and social condition” (Dubois). While Dubois did take issue with the Bureau, his concerns appear rooted in personal rather than substantive causes.
Analyzing the other opinions voiced in The Souls of Black Folk provides more insight into why Dubois was not fond of the Bureau. Dubois’s views on classical education and the progress of African-American race correlate with his views on the Freedmen’s Bureau. Thoughts expressed in The Souls of Black Folk promote distinctly anti-agrarian ideas. Dubois opposed the redistribution of land to freedmen because he felt that it would create a “Black peasant proprietor” (Dubois). This belief contrasted with the beliefs of the majority of freedmen, who dreamed of the forty acres acres and a mule. Because of their slave heritage, freedmen tended to support the agrarian lifestyle. For the large majority of freedmen, being able to own and work their own land was the ultimate goal (Abbot 150-151); however, Dubois believed that classical education and not farm work was the key to progress for African-American race (Dubois). Dislike for a reversion to a life of agriculture also fueled Dubois’s disdain for contracted labor as well....