dissolution, its legacy influenced hundreds of historically black colleges and universities, including
Howard University in Washington, D.C., named
for General Howard, who served as its first president (1867–73).
General Howard tried to protect freed blacks
but lacked adequate power, and President Johnson
frustrated his efforts. By 1869, the Bureau lost
most of its funding, and Ku Klux Klan terrorism
weakened it. In 1872, Congress did not renew its
Other Laws: Congress amended both the Habeas
But statutes were not enough. The Constitution needed amendment
rather than temporary political majorities.
Congress was prompted to act by violent riots, with the killing of
black women and children in Memphis, Tennessee (May 1-3, 1866),
and New Orleans (July 30, 1866), including the burning of a Freedmen’s Bureau school.
Congress passed the joint resolution proposing the 14th Amendment on June 16, 1866.9 Great hostility followed, especially in the
South. President Johnson denounced the amendment, suggesting
Congress had no authority to propose amendments while Southern
states remained unrepresented in Congress. State legislatures in the
In a progressive economic program, the Bureau economically
supported former white planters in rebuilding their plantations by
urging freed blacks to return to work for them, but monitored the
labor contracts. Only a small percentage of white planters participated.
But the Freedman’s Bureau’s greatest contribution was in education. It taught Freedmen to read. Despite the Bureau’s untimely
General Oliver O. Howard An 1866 poster attacking the Freedman’s Bureau
Marriage and the 14th Amendment: Most
slave marriages were informal because slaveholders refused them legal status, which could
make a slave more difficult to sell. Upon emancipation, the Freedmen’s Bureau performed marriages
for freed couples, viewing it as a fundamental
Exactly a century later, the United States
Supreme Court decided the best-named case in
history, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12, (1967).
Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the Court striking down Virginia’s ban on marriage
between blacks and whites that “marriage as a fundamental right”:
“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence
and survival. … To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the
racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive
of the principle of equality at the heart of the 14th Amendment,
is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without
due process of law.”
Our view of marriage as a fundamental right but still something
the government confers makes this issue the subject of modern
controversy in the same-sex marriage debate. But again,
under the 14th Amendment the Court in Obergefell v.
Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), recognized the right to
marry applied to same-sex couples.
Mildred and Richard Loving
Freedmen’s Bureau wedding