Suggested Essay Topics

Chapters 1-6
1. The Freedmen’s Bureau was established shortly after emancipation to coordinate efforts to help blacks transition from life on plantations to life in a democratic society. Yet its formation was time-consuming and complex. Many politicians disagreed about its place within the U.S. government, the length of its charter, and its general purpose. Outline the history DuBois gives of the Bureau’s formation, and discuss the debates about where the Bureau was to operate within the U.S. government. In what ways were these debates symbolic of the national consciousness about the extent of the “Negro problem” in America? What does it mean for a black person to be the “ward of the nation” under Bureau protection?

2. Education and literacy were of central importance to the advancement of blacks in society in post-Civil War America, and yet education couldn’t overcome many fundamental problems that blacks encountered. In what ways did the Freedmen’s Bureau help foster a system of education for blacks? In what ways was the system unable to overcome some of the hurdles to black education? Address the widespread poverty faced by blacks in the Tennessee community where DuBois taught, and the fact that many children had to work to help support their families.

Chapters 7-10
1. Following emancipation, the black community faced many challenges when it came to establishing a viable lifestyle under the newfound “freedom.” In what ways were these challenges external, i.e. the responsibility of the United States government? In what ways were these challenges predictable, or the result of blacks’ historical lack of access to education, capital, the vote, and civil rights? Address the role of education, farm labor, whites’ social attitudes, and the legacy of Booker T. Washington in crafting your answer. Could the black population have done anything to better their situation under the new...

(The entire section is 597 words.)