National Museum of African American History and Culture

Records of the Superintendent of Education for the State of Alabama, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865–1870

Collection ID:
Physical Description:
8 Reels
The collection is comprised of digital surrogates previously available on the 8 rolls of microfilm described in the NARA publication M810. These digital surrogates reproduced the records of the Superintendent of Education for the State of Alabama, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865–70. The bound records include four volumes of letters and endorsements sent, a register of letters received, and a miscellaneous account book. The unbound records include letters and issuances received, reports issued and received, and miscellaneous papers.

Historical Note
Historical Note
[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M810.]
The Freedmen's Bureau, as the Bureau was commonly known, was established was established in the War Department by an act of March 3, l865 (13 Stat. 507), and extended twice by the acts of July 16, 1866 (14 Stat. 173), and July 6, 1868 (15 Stat. 83) Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard was appointed Commissioner by the President in May 1865 and he served in that position until June 30, 1872, when the activities of the Bureau were terminated in accordance with an act of June 10, 1872 (17 Stat. 366). Although the Bureau was a part of the War Department, its work was primarily social and economic in nature. The Bureau cooperated with benevolent societies in issuing supplies to destitute persons and in maintaining freedmen's schools. Bureau officials supervised labor contracts between Negro employees and white employers; helped Negro soldiers and sailors to collect bounty claims, pensions, and backpay; and attended to the disposition of confiscated or abandoned lands and other property.
The act of March 3, 1865, authorized the appointment of Assistant Commissioners to aid the Commissioner in supervising the work of the Bureau in the States. Brig. Gen. Wager Swayne was appointed Assistant Commissioner for the State of Alabama. In a circular issued by Commissioner Howard in July 1865, the Assistant Commissioners were instructed to designate one officer in each State to serve as "general Superintendents of Schools." These officials were to "take cognizance of all that is being done to educate refugees and freedmen, secure proper protection to schools and teachers, promote method and efficiency, correspond with the benevolent agencies which are supplying his field, and aid the Assistant Commissioner in making his required reports." In October 1865, a degree of centralized control was established over Bureau educational activities in the States when Rev. John W. Alvord was appointed Inspector of Finances and Schools in January 1867, Alvord was divested of his financial responsibilities, and he was appointed General Superintendent of Education.
Bureau educational activity in Alabama officially began with the appointment of Rev. Charles W Buckley as Bureau Inspector and Superintendent of Schools in October 1865. Buckley was succeeded by Henry M. Bush, who served as Acting Superintendent from January 1868 until the appointment of R. D. Harper in March of the same year Harper served during 1368 but because he was frequently away on leave, Bush was authorized by Assistant Commissioner Oliver L. Shepherd to administer the office in Harper's absence. In January 1869, in accordance with an act of July 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 193), Bureau operations in Alabama, as in other States, were terminated except for the educational functions and the collection of claims. Edwin Beecher, formerly Assistant Commissioner, became Superintendent of Education at that time and served in that capacity until July 1870 when the remaining Bureau activities in Alabama were also terminated.
Heading the Bureau's educational system was the Superintendent of Education who served under the Assistant Commissioner as a Staff Officer. Subordinate to both the Assistant Commissioner and the Superintendent of Education were the assistant superintendents, later called subassistant commissioners, who commanded the subdistricts into which the State was divided. Some of the more important subdistricts included those with headquarters at Demopolis, Eufaula, Greenville, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Opelika, Selma, Talladega, and Tuscaloosa. A subassistant commissioner supervised all Bureau activities in his area, including education, and reported on educational matters to both the Superintendent of Education and the Assistant Commissioner. After January 1869, when the function of the Bureau became almost entirely educational, subassistant commissioners became local superintendents of education. Each teacher reported to the subassistant commissioner of his subdistrict.
The schools maintained by the Bureau in Alabama included day schools for children, night schools for adults, and Sabbath schools. Rudimentary education including reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography received primary emphasis in most Bureau schools. Teachers were recruited from the local white population, from among the freedmen themselves, and from the North by the freedmen's aid societies. No single policy of assigning responsibilities in the maintenance of the schools was followed consistently. The Bureau generally supplied buildings for schools and transportation for teachers and relied on the aid societies and freedmen to pay for textbooks and teachers' salaries, although at times teachers were paid from Bureau funds. The Superintendent of Education reported to and corresponded with the Assistant Commissioner and with superiors in the Bureau's Washington headquarters. In addition he corresponded with and received reports from subordinate officers and teachers in the subdistricts. The Superintendent also corresponded extensively with aid societies regarding their contributions to the educational effort in the State.
When Assistant Commissioner Beecher became Superintendent of Education in 1869 he failed to separate completely the records of the new office from those of the old. Consequently, some of his reports and letters sent and a few endorsements and issuances created in his capacity as Superintendent of Education are among the records of the Assistant Commissioner. The volumes reproduced in this microfilm publication were originally unnumbered. Later they were arbitrarily assigned numbers, which are shown in parentheses and which serve as an aid in identifying the volumes. Black numbered pages in the volumes have not been filmed.

Immediate Source of Acquisition
Acquired from FamilySearch International in 2015.

Digital Content
More …
Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
Freedmen's Bureau Digital Collection, 1865–1872, is a product of and owned by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. Copyright for digital images is retained by the donor, FamilySearch International; permission for commercial use of the digital images may be requested from FamilySearch International, Intellectual Property Office, at:
Preferred Citation
Courtesy of the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration, FamilySearch International, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Related Materials

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
American South Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Freedmen's Bureau Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Reconstruction, U.S. history, 1865-1877 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Slaves -- Emancipation Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Education Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Washington, D.C. 20004