Almost thirty years ago I first learned about the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Freedman’s Savings Bank (officially known as the Freedman’s Saving and Trust Company).
While in college I was able to do further research on the legacy of freed Black slaves in America, and the one thing that stood in the way of their financial inclusion and the future of economic development in Black America more than one hundred years later— that one thing was FEAR.
The southern white “establishment” was fearful of what inclusion and development of freed Black slaves would mean for them (the former slave owners), and whether or not the tables would be turned on them— if the human “property” they enslaved for more than 100 years finally decided to “get even”.
The Freedmen’s Bureau and the Freedman’s Bank struggled and failed in 1874 (after 9 years) for many reasons, but what triggered their fall was the fear of seeing freed slaves rebuild their lives and join the competitive landscape of the country that they built through their own blood, sweat, and tears.
How could the enslaved now have the right and financial capability to own land and property, live by, and exist at the same level or above the same people who had enslaved them? How could they be as or more educated than the people that outlawed slaves from being taught to read and write? I’m sure for many white southerners, this was tantamount to blasphemy.
Yes, what most of us did not know is that although the bank failed and shut down, the building in Washington D.C. (the relocated national headquarters) was never destroyed. No one struck a match to it or bulldozed it. It’s been here hundreds of years later staring at all of us. Isn’t that ironic? Fear is only capable of doing so much. It is not all-powerful. It can’t hide for long. It can only destroy so much, but mostly it destroys itself.
You have to know the history to understand the relevance today…
This article is so delayed it’s not even funny. My first draft was ready on May 3rd but I had technical difficulties with posting. But today is still an awesome day to share an amazing story no matter how many weeks ago it took place.
A few weekends ago I had the honor and privilege to spend time with and share a moment in history with Ambassador Andrew Young and his family and friends, and Martin Luther King III and his wife Arndrea King.
It was the weekend of April 29th to May 1st and I arrived a day early (on the 28th) so I could be well-rested and prepared for the events and activities that were awaiting me.
To hear Ambassador Young speak Friday, the night before the unveiling of his portrait (at the Smithsonian) about his life, his friendship with Dr. King, how the late Jean Childs Young and Coretta Scott King knew each other long before their husbands met, and grew up in the same small town was so moving. I have heard that story before but this night had a different impact on all of us. This was a very special weekend.
To hear Ambassador Young speak of his beloved second wife Carolyn and all that she has done to help him, his family, and his mission since they married touched my heart. To hear about the struggle in the 1960s and to stop and reflect on how detailed his memory truly is had me very humble and honored for all the moments that I have shared with him and his family.
We visited the memorial site for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and we honored the work, dedication, sacrifice, and contributions made by our beloved Ambassador Andrew Young as his oil on canvas portrait was revealed at the Smithsonian on Saturday.
Words cannot describe how I felt to see Dr. King’s memorial in all of its glory. We were only allowed to take pictures of the park and periphery so that no one revealed the wondrous creation to the world before the official reveal date. That set in deep in my heart to know that I was about to witness something for the first time, and that I would witness it with members of both the King and Young family.
To later see Ambassador Young’s portrait unveiled and to be in the presence of other Civil Rights leaders, influencers, and their children was awesome. Tears filled many eyes including mine as they reflected on the past and the journey to today (and their hope for the future). To see Mayor Kasim Reed’s eyes as he looked to the man he calls a mentor and one of the reasons he ran for office in Atlanta, made me proud and reinforced my belief in mentoring and volunteering in the community.
To spend time with friends Martin and Arndrea King is always a pleasure, but spending three days in DC with them for this momentous occasion took on a different feel altogether.
How does it feel to see a beautiful and powerful memorial erected in your father’s honor and memory? If it were me, it would require a second visit within weeks of the first. To know that Martin and Arndrea’s daughter, Yolanda will one day carry the torch that was lit by her great grandparents, passed down to Dr. and Mrs. King her grandparents, then to her father, aunts, and uncle makes me pause and smile brightly. This is what a legacy is all about.
I’m honored to have taken part in this weekend, in this historical moment, and with people who I consider friends, mentors, and angels!
Copyright 2011. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.