At the close of the Civil War, Congress established the Freedmen's Bureau-formally, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands-to deal with the question of the place in society of its new black citizens. General Oliver Otis Howard, known both admiringly and derisively as the "Christian General," was given the responsibility of defining the nation's commitment to four million former slaves.
Instructed by Congress to divide lands abandoned to the Union army into forty-acre plots and award them to freedmen, Howard began a program that might have given many families farms of their own. The effort had barely begun when it ran into President Andrew Johnson's policy of returning such lands to former white owners. Soon Howard and his agents were under pressure not to assist the free people, but to coerce them into working for landlords.
And yet, however tarnished the record, the Bureau was still recalled by W. E. B. DuBois for its "bright promise." Yankee Stepfather provides a revealing, and troubling, picture of the complex relationship of African Americans to their government at a crucial juncture in American history.
In a new foreword to this edition, William S. McFeely places his book, first published in 1968, in its place in the scholarship on race relations of the past quarter-century.