Freedmen's Bureau

In this lesson, students use a number of primary sources to investigate how the Freedmen’s Bureau accomplished its goals. Students discuss both the immediate effects and the ultimate goals of emancipation and how the Freedmen’s Bureau contributed to the transition from slavery to freedom.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Analyze the goals and accomplishments of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, Freedmen's Bureau, and Fisk University to help former slaves begin a new life.
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Integrate information from two or more texts on the same topic in order to build content knowledge.
Determine a theme or central idea of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
Prepare for collaborative discussions on 5th grade level topics and texts; engage effectively with varied partners, building on others' ideas and...
Report on a topic or text, or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main...
Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.
Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an...
Prepare for collaborative discussions on 8th grade level topics and texts; engage effectively with varied partners, building on others' ideas and...
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
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Learning objectives: 

The learner will:

  • Understand the challenges faced by African Americans after emancipation.
  • Describe the purposes for which the Freedmen’s Bureau was originally established.
  • Analyze primary sources to learn how the Bureau attempted to perform one of its functions.
Essential and guiding questions: 
  • What were the goals of the Freedmen’s Bureau?
  • In what specific ways did the Bureau attempt to assist the lives of the freedmen? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

Have students analyze and then compare and contrast the portrayal of the Freedmen’s Bureau in the following three sources:

  • "The freedman's bureau" [1868]
  • The Freedmen's Bureau / Drawn by A.R. Waud. [1868]

Helpful Hints


  • The Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1865
  • Primary Source Handouts #1-6
  • Freedmen’s Bureau Worksheet
  • “Emancipation During and After the Civil War”
  • "Hope Within a Wilderness of Suffering: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom During the Civil War and Reconstruction in Tennessee"