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The role of the Freedmen's Bureau changed over time. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the Bureau was primarily responsible for providing freed slaves with food, medical care, and living quarters. As Reconstruction went on, the Freedmen's Bureau became more geared toward helping newly free blacks gain an economic footing in the South. In particular, the Bureau assisted slaves in negotiating labor contracts with whites, including, but not limited to, sharecropper arrangements. Perhaps its most important and most enduring contribution was the establishment of schools, the first of their kind, in the South. There were more than a thousand such institutions around the South, a remarkable accomplishment considering the region had no history of public education. The Bureau also, on occasion, handled lawsuits involving former slaves, especially those related to labor contracts.
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