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Wood engraving, "The First Vote,” by Alfred Waud, Harper's Weekly, November 16, 1867

African American men voted for the first time in significant strength in 1867. Dominated by the “Radical Republicans,” a group known for supporting post-war civil rights policies, Congress put the former Confederate states under military authority until the states established new constitutions and applied for readmission to the Union. The Freedmen’s Bureau ensured that black voters could elect delegates to state constitutional conventions.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Wood engraving, "The First Vote,” by Alfred Waud, Harper's Weekly, November 16, 1867

The Freedmen's Bureau - 1

In 1865 Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, to address the needs of displaced and formerly enslaved persons. The bureau administered humanitarian, economic, and legal services; supervised labor contracts; and redistributed abandoned lands. Congress re-chartered the Freedmen’s Bureau over President Andrew Johnson’s veto in 1866, but terminated its activities in 1872. African Americans elected to the House who had worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau included John Mercer Langston, Jeremiah Haralson, Josiah Walls, and Robert C. De Large.