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These stories will make you cry - Freedmen's Bureau Project

I couldn't help it, I cried.

A blind freedman (that's what the newly emancipated slaves were often called after the Civil War) applied to the Freedmen's Bureau to get help with an urgent issue. He told the bureau agent that his children had worked six days a week for 18 months - a year and a half - doing labor on a farm of some type but they were never paid for their work. Their only recourse was to go to the bureau to see if an agent could solve this matter, essentially a labor dispute. According to the document, the agent filed the claim but mistakenly wrote down the wrong state or some other key detail.

Beth Stephenson, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said it's not too far fetched to conclude that the freedman never got justice for his children who worked what was probably backbreaking work for over a year for nothing.

Stephenson found this story through her efforts to transcribe some documents as part of the Freedmen's Bureau Project.

There are lots more stories like it, she said.

Of course, not all of the stories that come out of the documents are so heartbreaking. Not all of them are stories of the injustice the freed slaves continued to face after emancipation.

Some are happy stories, stories of couples who wanted to tell the world that they had committed their lives to each other in marriage, an institution that was denied them as slaves. Some are stories of men and women who wanted to tell someone where they came from and all about their parents and children and other family members.

Jan Larsen, coordinator of the Oklahoma Freedmen's Bureau Project, is seeking the help of individuals, churches and other organizations, particularly those in the black community, who want to help transcribe some of the information found in these documents. This transcription process, called indexing, is the way to ensure that this priceless information gleaned through the Freedmen's Bureau records and documents may be shared with people around the country and the world.

Here's a link to my story in today's paper that focuses on the project: Freedmen files  

Here are some facts about the Freedmen's Bureau you might find interesting (SOURCE: DiscoverFreedmen.org):

 -- The Freedmen's Bureau was organized near the end of the American Civil War to assist newly freed slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

-- From 1865 to 1872, the bureau opened schools to educate the illiterate, managed hospitals, rationed food and clothing for the destitute and even solemnized marriages.

-- In 2001, the genealogy organization FamilySearch indexed the Freedmen's Bank records, comprising more than 460,000 historical records, which became one of the largest collections of searchable Civil War-era African American records.

-- In 2009, FamilySearch volunteers continued these efforts by indexing more than 800,000 Freedmen's Bureau records from Virginia.

-- FamilySearch is launching a call to action to index the names of freedmen and refugees from about 1.5 million more documents in the bureau collection.

-- Using an online indexing tool, volunteers will min each record for data, which will then be compiled into an online searchable database.

-- Nationwide volunteer indexing efforts are expected to take one year to complete.

-- Records, histories and stories will be available on discoverfreedmen.org.

-- The records will be showcased in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is expected to open nin late 2016.

Carla Hinton

Religion Editor 

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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