College of Arts and Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)


Kemp Burpeau


Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington Heights, Arlington's Freedmen's Village, Arlington's Freedman's Village, Freedmen's Village, Freedman's Village, Freedmen, Freedman, Black Code, Black Codes, Black Code Laws, Blacks in Virginia, Blacks in Arlington, African American, African American's Arlington Virginia, Slavery, Civil War, Black History, Emancipation in Washington, Emancipation in Virginia, Emancipation, General Oliver Otis Howard, General Charles Henry Howard, Hall’s Hill, Johnson’s Hill, Queen City, Green Valley, Shaw Neighborhood, Washington, D.C., The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, Mount Zion Baptist Church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Mount Olive Baptist Church, Syphax, General Robert E. Lee, General Robert E. Lee Estate, Charles Syphax, Mount Vernon, George Washington Parke Custis, Gum Springs Virginia, Maria Syphax, Howard University, HBCU, Black History, United States Colored Troops, USTC, Blacks in Civil War, African Americans in Civil War




This investigative study will discuss how the Freedmen's Village was designed as a community for the formerly enslaved to demonstrate what they could achieve with freedom. However, residents arriving at the Village found that they still had many restrictions placed on them and their labor, like de-facto slavery. The Freedmen’s Bureau was in charge of the Freedmen's Village. The Freedmen’s Village refused to allow able-bodied individuals to go without work, demonstrating the importance of employment. Furthermore, private agencies collaborated with both Freedmen's Village and the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide job opportunities outside of the Village for some residents. Many of the formerly enslaved residents had skills in barbering, tailoring, shoemaking, blacksmithing, and construction work. Some of the children were apprenticed to work outside of the Freedmen's Village while women found placements as seamstresses, servants, launderers, cooks, or housekeepers. The transition to freedom was very harsh for many Freedmen in the South. Many died from starvation and exposure to the elements. This, combined with other factors, led to a decrease in the population of African Americans in the Confederacy. They were used to a system where their masters took care of them and provided everything they needed. Now that system was gone, they had no way to support themselves or earn money. The droughts that happened after the war made things even worse. Afraid of being caught in a cycle of violence and oppression, many able-bodied men were gathered in camps, barracks, and colonies. Many of them enlisted in the Union Army. Several Freedmen were carried away by their owners further south, unable to return and find out if their families had been abandoned or if they made the fatal error of disobeying their masters' will. The Freedmen were entirely dependent on others for their very survival. Unfortunately, after the emancipation, many of them were kept in bondage because their masters kidnapped them and ran into rural areas of the South to escape Union troops who would have freed them according to the Emancipation Proclamation. With no men to protect or provide for them, the women and children had to take care of themselves as best they could. To survive, they gathered food from wherever they could beg door-to-door and camp-to-camp and ate anything edible they found in the fields and woods, whether it was roots, berries, or scraps. Many of them perished from cold, hunger, and exposure to the elements. The first duty of the Bureau, then, was to provide for the immediate needs of these destitute people. This was done in two ways: by establishing colonies on abandoned farms, and by building camps and barracks to house the people until they could be placed in more permanent homes. The government gave every family in the colonies a piece of land to farm as well as supplies like seeds and agricultural tools. They also provided food and clothing until harvested crops could support everyone. Sometimes, families were given livestock, too. The goal was for each colony to become self-sufficient so that its residents would not need help from the government. These efforts were reflected at the Freedmen’s Village and this encampment lasted several decades after the other encampments were closed. The Freedmen’s Bureau was both an enabler of African American aspirations as well as an impediment. The Bureau did facilitate the transition from slavery to citizenship through the “incubator” environment offered by the government’s administration of the Freedmen’s Village. However, such existence came with bureaucracy and objectives that were not always in the Freedmen’s best interest. Even well-meaning benevolent organizations were often encumbered by conscience or subconscious racism. These inconsistencies caused much hardship for Freedmen. On the other hand, Village residents were able to create a vibrant community with schools, churches, and benevolent societies that provided social and political outlets. The Freedmen’s Bureau also gave freed people access to employment opportunities and legal assistance. This dissertation will demonstrate that even though there were clear instances when the Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedmen’s Village failed Freedmen, these organizations were still able to help facilitate a thriving community for the Freedmen. Freedmen used beneficial assistance such as education, vocational training, health care, and housing to establish and further their self-empowerment through the establishment of African American schools, churches, benevolent societies, and labor organizations. Through their development of the Freedmen’s Village, Freedmen were able to develop a unique African American community rooted in self-determination, autonomy, and progress. Despite the challenges and restrictions of government control, Freedmen were able to use Freedmen’s Village as a model of African American community development that is still celebrated and studied today. This Freedmen-driven self-determination was often in direct opposition to the Bureau’s paternalistic, top-down thinking. Though the Freedmen benefited from the central planning and infrastructure established by the government, it was the Freedmen themselves who spearheaded the development of a vibrant community. At the same time, Freedmen were struggling against a system that was not always willing to recognize the human potential of Freedmen. This struggle was part of the larger struggle for African American rights and civil liberties.

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