The following article originally appeared on Facebook on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Freedman's Bank.
closure of Freedman’s Bank devastated the African American community.
An idea that began as a well-meaning experiment in philanthropy had
turned into an economic nightmare for tens of thousands African
Americans who had entrusted their hard-earned money to the bank.”
Reginald Washington, former archivist at the National Archives.
The founding of the Freedman’s Bank was spearheaded by John W.
Alvord, a Congregationalist minister and abolitionist, who served as a
chaplain accompanying Gen.William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops. Alvord
observed the destitute conditions of the former slaves and also noted a
pressing need for greater financial literacy and some type of savings
bank to serve the black soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops.
The founding trustees succeeded in getting a charter for incorporation
approved by Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on
March 3, 1865. Ultimately, 37 branches of the Freedman’s Bank were
established in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
Initially, the Freedman’s Bank appears to have started off as a
benevolent institution staffed by officials and trustees who were
sincerely interested in promoting financial “upliftment” to the formerly
But mismanagement and corruption among
some of the bank’s managing officials mixed with a broader, national
economic recession, resulted in the failure of the Freedman’s Bank.
Although the Freedman’s Bank had officially received its charter from
Congress, Congress had not established any Federal responsibility for
the solvency of the institution. And most of the African American
depositors were not aware that the Freedman’s Bank was not an official
agency or arm of the Federal Government.
While half of the
depositors of the Freedman’s Bank eventually received some compensation,
others received nothing. Some, including these depositors, tried
unsuccessfully in 1880 to petition Congress for reimbursement. (Image:
National Archives,Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, RG 233)
You can read the full story of the Freedman's Bank here:
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Gretchen Schwimmer, the Mennonite
girl Eddie Grenville has decided to marry. Her family of Swiss
immigrants are establishing themselves in SC as sausage and
cheese-makers, bringing old-world traditions to their new home. Their
plain life-style also appeals to Eddie, because it centers around a farm that produces everything the people need.
To the rest of the Grenville family, however, the Mennonite customs will be puzzling. Their family ties are much closer than most Southerners are used to. "Family" refers to all the aunts, uncles, and cousins. The women dress in simple high-necked, long-sleeved gowns, frequently with a crisp white bibbed apron over the dress and a small white prayer cap. Gretchen will not accept an engagement ring because her people do not approve of jewelry. Their religious services do not depend upon a church or a minister. Any member can speak or pray as the spirit moves. Music plays a huge part in their lives, which should please Susan, but it is vocal, not instrumental. Food is simple and filling but not fancy. And special occasions are usually celebrated outdoors.
Life in the Schwimmer community is a long way from the cotillions and ladies parlors of Susan Grenville's South Carolina upbringing. Will she be shocked or engaged by the differences?
Meet the Klan!
This is a clipping from a picture taken in 1870. You'll notice that these members of the Ku Klux Klan have their faces covered (as well they should!), but these are not the white conical masks and white gowns of the modern Klan. During the period of Reconstruction, the Klan was a new phenomenon. They had figured out that they needed to be anonymous and protected from being identified, but it was too early for them to have much in the way of organization or official uniforms.
The Klan made its appearance in South Carolina around 1868-1870. The members were clerks, shopkeepers, or craftsmen, who worked at mundane jobs during the day and then came out to play at night. They made their own masks, found a bit of rope, or a club, or a fiery torch, and amused themselves by making threats and terrifying newly-freed slaves.
The mysterious Klan member who visits Jonathan Grenville several times in Yankee Reconstructed is something of an anomaly, in that he operates on his own rather than as a part of a mob. He supports white supremacy and has no scruples about lynching a troublesome black man or a white man, either, for that matter. But he is also concerned that people understand why he does so, and that concern sets him apart. Will we ever know who he is? Perhaps.
Most Klansmen were middle-aged white men, most of whom had not fought in the Civil War. Why? Because the real veterans of the Civil War were often embittered by the war experience and unwilling to have much to do with those who only played at continuing to fight. Those former soldiers who were physically able and willing to cause trouble were more likely to join bands of "red shirts" led by their former commanding officers.
You've heard the description of a dog whose bark was worse than his bite. Well, that also describes the Klansmen. They were bullies who could be stymied by firm resistance. The Red Shirts, on the other hand seldom barked, but when they bit, they caused major damage. Both groups supported the Democratic Party and its efforts to keep Negroes from voting or owning property. Both hoped that somehow the Old South could be restored to its former glory. Both groups will play important roles in Yankee Reconstructed.
Wade Hampton III was the only son of South Carolina’s largest slave-owner. From childhood he was trained to follow in his father’s footsteps. The family held vast tracts of land and occupied many of the state’s political offices. Young Wade was also handsome, charismatic, and full of derring-do. Long before he became a soldier, he had a reputation as a bear-killer. He was a legend long before he actually did anything to earn that reputation.
In the years leading up to the war, Hampton was against the dissolution of the Union, but once South Carolina took that fateful step, he supported his state. His military career started when the governor made him a Colonel and encouraged him to recruit a legion of 10,000 soldiers. He did so easily. Hampton made a brief appearance in "Damned Yankee" when Charlotte Grenville’s young husband became one of his recruits. Slightly later, Johnnie Grenville also joined Hampton’s Legion.
After the war, Hampton stepped out of the spotlight and turned his attention to rebuilding his family’s fortunes. He refused an offer to become Governor of the state, preferring to influence politics from a less visible position. But as Reconstruction proceeded, he took over leadership of the Democratic Party and gathered the support of many of the young men who had fought under him during the war. It should come as no surprise that Johnnie Grenville would be one of them.
Just look at that face! There is deep sadness in her eyes, and bitterness pulls her mouth into a tight-lipped grimace. Yet whatever life has done to her, it has failed to break her spirit. She stands erect, her chin fairly begging someone to try to oppose her. She takes pride in her appearance, her earrings heavy with jewels and her mourning dress adorned with an oversized cameo. She has done her best to control her unruly curls, but she makes no apology for them. The overall impression is of an older woman, but her lack of wrinkles or sagging jawline both suggest that she is probably no older than Susan Grenville.
This is Henrietta McLeod, a Confederate war widow who has buried not only her husband but also her son. To readers of the Charleston Mercury she is better known as "Boadicea." The name comes from the Celtic queen of England's distant history-- the brave woman who stood against Roman occupation of the British Isles. Henrietta sees herself as playing a similar role. Having lost most of her family to an invading army, she would take up arms herself to preserve what remained of her glorious land. In the articles she writes for the local newspaper, she calls upon all true Southerners to join her in continuing to fight for the "Lost Cause". And she particularly encourages the women of the South -- those who, like her, have lost their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons -- to band together with pride and determination. Where a traditional army had failed, she argues, a band of strong women could prevail.
Immediately after the war, she moved to Charleston and purchased the house next door to the Dubois House on Legare Street. In the following years, she would go on to create an organization for women alone -- one that would come to represent all the confederacy had stood for. But during Reconstruction, her words are all she has to use as weapons, and use them she does, to persuade one woman at a time to join her cause. Will she be a challenge to Susan, or a threat?