The Civil War freed millions from slavery, but the years following the conflict brought forth a new set of problems. There was, for a time, a glimpse of hope that freed slaves would receive their own small farms. Yet the promise of “forty acres and a mule” turned out to be more rumor than reality.
The federal government, with the formation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, did take commendable steps to educate former slaves and help them find employment. A war hero with an abolitionist background, Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, from whom Howard University was named, was the first commissioner of the bureau.
General Howard’s job wasn’t easy. Many white southerners bitterly refused to accept new realities, and some schools set up by the Freedmen’s Bureau were burned to the ground.
In the economic realm the freedmen faced other difficulties. The dream of owning land was simply put out of reach for many. And the system of sharecropping which became common in the South was, in some ways, not far from slavery.
The end of slavery is rightly celebrated as a great milestone. But the years which followed were marked by many struggles which should never be forgotten.