Teaching Guide: Exploring the Freedmen’s Bureau

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Freedmen's Bureau, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. What conflicts related to the Freedmen’s Bureau does the 1868 Waud engraving illustrate? Why is the Freedmen’s Bureau in the center? What do other symbols in the image (the flag, weapons) contribute to the cartoon’s message?

  2. Compare and contrast the characterization of the Freedmen’s Bureau in the 1868 Waud engraving with the characterization in other items in this set.

  3. Why do you think Sophie Dunford (discussed in the letter from the North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau) may have brought her issue to the Freedmen’s Bureau? What advantages does the agency have in negotiating that a single person might not?

  4. Look at the illustration of marriage, the marriage certificate, the photo of the school, the report on schools, and the contracts. Now think about the violence described in the letter to the assistant inspector general. What is the relationship between expanding opportunities for freedmen after the Civil War and the rise of violence against the freedmen?

  5. Look at the items in this set that relate to education. Why do you think that universal education was a top priority for the Freedmen’s Bureau? Explain some reasons that white leaders in the South supported and opposed the education of the freedmen.

Classroom activities

  1. Imagine you are working for the Freedmen’s Bureau representing workers in a contract negotiation at the Dean Hall Plantation. Write a journal entry detailing your experience: What are some important issues you want included in that contract? Why? What kind of problems do you think you might encounter in compromising with the plantation owners?

  2. Using all the items in the set, describe in an essay what life might have been like for a former slave, detailing the positives and negatives of newly emancipated life in the Reconstruction South. Describe some of the opportunities and challenges (new and familiar) that freedmen faced after the Civil War.

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