The U.S. Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau in March 1865 as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Initially it catered to whites as it fed, clothed, sheltered, and provided medical care to more whites than blacks. It was only after Congress directed it to promote the general welfare of blacks that it became identified with freedmen. Between 1867 and 1869 the bureau helped to locate missing persons and reunite families separated by slavery, established over forty hospitals, and distributed twenty-one million meals. By 1870 the bureau had established 4,239 schools and provided them 9,307 teachers to serve 247,333 students. A number of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities established around the 1860s and 1870s were impacted by the bureau. The bureau ceased to exist after 1868 because of feeble efforts of Congress and the lack of a national commitment to full and equal citizenship for blacks.
Attorney Albion W. Tourgée argued in Plessy v. Ferguson that the “separate but equal” standard in New Orleans was unconstitutional.