The Purpose of Past Slave Owners As Freedmen's Bureau Agents

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Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Hi Everyone,

I wanted to see if anyone could help me gain a better understanding of the Freedmen's Bureau positions -- and how/why they were granted to certain individuals.

I ask because I am working on my family tree and I working on one of my brick walls in researching one set of my 3rd Great Greatparents. My mother remembers the oral history of their story --- but we know nothing of their parents or anything else before their union. Currently, I am researching my 3rd Great Grannie Jane.

Her maiden name was Bynum/Binum on her earliest presence on the Census - which is 1870.

This lead me to research the last name in Alabama - and I came across Oakley H. Bynum - he was a Cotton Planter, Pre-State Rep/Senator -- and a pretty large enslaver (enslaved 121 individuals) in Courtland, Alabama (Lawrence County) -- and comes from a family who were large enslavers.

While Googling his name - I found The Papers of Andrew Johnson: September 1865-January 1866 --- and they mention Mr. Oakley H. Bynum as a "Freedmen's Bureau Agent" and he was granted Amnesty.

My questions are:

- why would an enslaver be allowed to become an Agent for the Bureau?

- why and what was he granted Amnesty for?

Judicial Functions
While the land distribution of the new agency was thwarted, the bureau was able to perform many duties. Bureau agents had judicial authority in the South attempting to secure equal justice from the state and local governments for both blacks and white Unionists. Local agents individually adjudicated a wide variety of disputes. In some circumstances the bureau established courts where freedmen could bring forth their complaints. After the local courts regained their jurisdiction, bureau agents kept an eye on local courts retaining the authority to overturn decisions that were discriminatory towards blacks. In May 1865, the Commissioner of the bureau issued a circular “authorizing assistant commissioners to exercise jurisdiction in cases where blacks were not allowed to testify.”9

In addition to these judicial functions, the bureau also helped provide legal services in the domestic sphere. Agents helped legitimize slave marriages and presided over freedmen marriage ceremonies in areas where black marriages were obstructed. Beginning in 1866, the bureau became responsible for filing the claims of black soldiers for back pay, pensions, and bounties. The claims division remained in operation until the end of the bureau’s existence. During a time when many of the states tried to strip rights away from blacks, the bureau was essential in providing freedmen redress and access to more equitable judicial decisions and services. Source

I would think the newly freedmen/women in that county wouldn't have much help --- nor feel comfortable going to someone who they were once owned/enslaved by. Why would the government agency allow this?
 
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