Freedmen’s Bureau Records and the History of African American Education in Texas

Prior to the Civil War, enslaved African Americans in the South were largely denied a formal education. Several states even passed legislation prohibiting teaching African Americans how to read, based on the belief that education would lead to “rebellion.”[1]  After the war ended in 1865, the federal government established an agency primarily to assist newly freed African Americans. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, provided temporary relief and helped African Americans in the South with essential needs, including education. Despite epidemics, crop failures, natural disasters, and persistent local opposition, the Freedmen’s Bureau, in conjunction with various Northern missionary aid societies, managed to establish 66 schools throughout Texas. In July 1870, when the agency ceased operations, the freed African Americans owned 43 of the schools with 63 teachers and 3,248 students.[2]

Circular No. 20, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, Galveston, August 31,1866. Texas Adjutant General’s Department Reconstruction Records. TSLAC.

The crucial role the Freedmen’s Bureau played in the education of African Americans makes its records an important resource on this topic. While Bureau records have been duplicated on microfilm and are available in libraries and archives around the country, the nonprofit genealogy organization FamilySearch has digitized a significant amount of these materials and provides free access to them on their website. Their Freedmen’s Bureau Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education contains images of scanned documents browseable by state or division. To help users navigate the site, FamilySearch also offers an overview of the types of documents and the kind of information one may find in these records. The collection contains monthly teacher reports and reports of the sub-assistant commissioners and agents. Reports include statistics about numbers of students and teachers and schools.

Notification from the Freedmen’s Bureau announcing tuition fees. Texas Adjutant General’s Department Reconstruction Records. TSLAC.

Researchers hoping to focus on Texas may select that state from the menu and view images specifically from that collection. An in-depth description of the Texas records was produced for the microfilm in the pamphlet, “Records of the superintendent of education for the state of Texas, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870,” which is linked from the site as a PDF available for download. According to the pamphlet, records “include letters and endorsements sent, registers of letters received, and record books pertaining to schools, teachers, and educational expenditures of the Bureau.”

Since the federal government oversaw the Freedmen’s Bureau, that agency’s official records are managed by the National Archives and Records Administration. The Texas State Archives also contain collections with items related to the Freedmen’s Bureau. For example, the Texas Governor James Webb Throckmorton Records includes “Letters of Major Generals Philip H. Sheridan, Charles Griffin, J.B. Kiddoo, and S.P. Heintzelman concerning the activities of federal troops and the Freedmen’s Bureau constitute a large portion of the materials.” The Texas Adjutant General’s Department Reconstruction Records have “a sizable number of circulars and general orders [that] were issued by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau), both the central office in Washington, D.C. (1865-1867) and the regional office(s) in Texas: Galveston (1865-1867), Brownsville (1867), and Austin (1867-1868).”

When searching the archival collections with the TARO search tool, try using the term “freedmen” to catch references to both the common name and official name of the agency. In addition, researchers may be interested in collections related to the history of education more generally in Texas. Please note that not all collections have descriptive guides available online. Contact the reference staff at to assist with locating materials on topics of interest.

Those interested in the history of African American education in Texas may wish to consult our library collections for titles related to education, African Americans in Texas, and the period following the Civil War known as Reconstruction (1865-1877). Anyone hoping to learn about the history of African American education in Texas will find the story of the Freedmen’s Bureau essential.

Select publications:

Select archival collections:

County Records Available on Microfilm

We have identified the following counties as having school related records: Anderson, Bell, Blanco, Bowie, Brooks, Brown, Caldwell, Colorado, Collin, Cooke, Coryell, Ellis, Falls, Fayette, Gillespie, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Haskell, Henderson, Johnson, Kaufman, Leon, Llano, Marion, McLennan, Milam, Navarro, Parker, Robertson, Shackelford, Smith, Willacy, Wise, Young, Van Zandt, Waller, and Washington

Resources for Further Research

[1] Federick Eby, The Development of Education in Texas (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1925), 263.

[2] Alton Hornsby, “The Freedmen’s Bureau Schools in Texas, 1865-1870,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 76, no. 4 (1973): 416.,

A note about terminology: Some TSLAC library and archival holdings may contain language, imagery, attitudes, and/or perspectives from the past that may be offensive today. TSLAC does not endorse the language, imagery, attitudes, and/or perspectives presented in the content but provides it as a historical document.

For more information about the collections at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, contact our reference staff at or 512-463-5455.

4 thoughts on “Freedmen’s Bureau Records and the History of African American Education in Texas

  1. I need to find out where my great great grandfather lived in plantersville Texas and where he was buried.. he was born in North Carolina in 1825 but came to Texas and was freed from slavery later. I was told that he was forced out by The White Man’s Union. He couldn’t read or write but his name was Arra (Aura, Ira, Orra) McDowell (McDewel, McDow). Also any information about my great grandfather Adolphus (Adolfris, Dolphus) McDowell or his siblings Sam, Ruthie McDowell Whiteside, Hull, Wesley, Mary, Martha, and Ira(Arras). All help is appreciated

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