Abraham Lincoln once said, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.” On 1 January 1863, he issued a presidential proclamation and executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation.
Emancipation freed approximately 4 million slaves. In turn, the Freedmen’s Bureau was established to help those once held in the bonds and tyranny of slavery to transition to living life as a free people and as citizens by providing food, housing, education, and medical care. As citizens, for the first time in U.S. history, their names were recorded and preserved so that future generations would know and never forget those who blazed the trails of freedom before them.
To help make those records accessible to those tracing their family history and wishing to learn about their slave ancestry, the Freedmen’s Bureau Project was created. The project is a collaborative partnership between FamilySearch International and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum. The objective of the project is to help both Black Canadians and Black Americans reconnect with their Civil War-era ancestors by focusing on records of former U.S. slaves who became citizens. Thousands of volunteers are helping to type, and index information from the Freedmen’s Bureau records so that they are searchable in an online database. As of early May 2016, the project is 78 percent complete.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., a Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, orator, and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League once said, “A people without knowledge of their past history is like a tree without roots.” On 16 April 2016, approximately 500 people gathered at the Etobicoke Ontario building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for the inaugural Canadian Black History Summit. FamilySearch International (the genealogical arm of the Church) and the Ontario Black History Society co-hosted the free conference. Those participating in the conference had the opportunity to connect with Black genealogy experts and Black history, and to learn more about the Freedmen’s Bureau Project.
Rosemary Sadlier, a presenter at the summit, described the proceedings using a word from the Ghanaian Twi language – “Sankofa” – which translated means “go back and get it.” She remarked that the event was an excellent opportunity for those participating “to go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward, … so we can understand why and how we came to be and who we are today.” Thom Reed, the senior marketing manager of FamilySearch and a specialist for the Freedmen’s Bureau Project, commented, “We are tearing down walls because not having an ancestry is like not existing. The records we will be releasing in the fall are making it possible for individuals to find themselves for the first time.”
Guests at the summit included members of Parliament; government officials; leaders of black history sites, black churches and black organizations from across Ontario; and Ontario Mormon leaders. Nikki Clark, president of the Ontario Black History Society, gave the opening remarks. The presenters at the summit included notable Black history experts. Among those presenting at the conference were Darius Gray (author, historian, journalist and co-director of the Freedman’s Bank Project and Bryan Prince (author, historian, and consultant). Shannon Prince (curator of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum), Thom Reed (FamilySearch senior marketing manager), Rosemary Sadlier (author and historian) and Dr. Bryan Walls (author and founder of the John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum) were also presenters.
The experience of the summit was both eye-opening and life-altering for many of the attendees as they learned how important it is to research their family history, and the brick walls that many descendants of former U.S. slaves have faced when searching their family history beyond 1870.
It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who said, “Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.” And Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” stated:
In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.
There are things in all of our histories that we may wish we could change, but alas we are powerless to turn back the hands of time and make those changes ourselves. What we can do, however, is learn from our past. We can learn from the examples of our forefathers, who though life may not have been the best for them at times, traversed many trails of tears and still pressed forward with every ounce of strength and courage that they could muster to blaze trails of hope, and to build bridges to a brighter tomorrow for those who would come after them.
Emancipation of Slaves and the Freedmen’s Bureau
The Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on 1 January 1863. It changed the legal status, as recognized by the United States federal government, of 3 million slaves in the designated areas of the South from “slave” to “free.” It was issued as a war measure during the American Civil War, directed to all of the areas in rebellion and all segments of the executive branch, including the Army and Navy, of the United States. It also proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten states that were still in rebellion, and thus applied to more than 3 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. at the time. The abolition of slavery in Texas, however, did not occur until two years later, on 19 June 1865, when a Union General in Galveston, Texas, read aloud the contents of “General Order No. 3,” which proclaimed the total emancipation of slaves.
The Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, which established the Freedmen’s Bureau on 3 March 1865, was initiated by President Abraham Lincoln and was intended to last for one year after the end of the Civil War. It was established to aid “freedmen” (freed slaves) in 15 states and the District of Columbia during the Reconstruction era of the United States. The Bureau was made a part of the United States Department of War and was given the authority to help African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It also arranged to teach them to read and write, which was considered critical by the freedmen themselves, as well as the government, by opening schools. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau also managed hospitals, and encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations and urged freed Blacks to gain employment. All the while, the Bureau kept a watchful eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and encouraged both Whites and Blacks to work together as employers and employees, instead of masters and slaves.
Freedmen’s Bureau Project Announced
On Friday, 19 June 2015 (“Juneteenth”), the 150th celebration of Emancipation Day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch International, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Church, and African-American history organizations, announced the joint Freedmen’s Bureau Project which will release 1.5 million digitized hand-written records that contain the names of up to 4 million former slaves collected by agents of the Freedman’s Bureau at the end of the Civil War.
The project, which is a partnership between Family Search, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum, was announced at a press conference held in the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, California. It will make the records available for free online at a new website, discoverfreedmen.org. The press conference, hosted by Jermaine and Kembe Sullivan, who were featured in the 2014 movie “Meet the Mormons,” was streamed live online and included simultaneous gatherings at 31 other locations, including the Underground Railroad Museum and the National Civil War Museum.
Release of Records Reveal Critical Links to the Past
According to Deseret News, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ stated during his remarks that the Freedmen’s Bureau records have the potential to help “reunite the black family that was once torn apart by slavery.” Rev. Cecil L. Murray of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California in his remarks emphasized that “freedmen” (freed slaves) “would not have had any place to stay, any place to sleep, or any food to eat had it not been for the concept of the Freedmen’s Bureau.”
The Freedmen’s Bureau records contain information about former slaves such as marriages, military pensions, and labor contracts and trials that would have otherwise been lost forever. Paul Nauta, spokesman for FamilySearch, commented:
African-Americans who tried to research their family history before 1870 hit a brick wall because before 1870 their ancestors who were slaves and showed up as ticks or hash marks on paper. They didn’t have a name. The slave master would just have tick marks.
With the availability of these valuable records, people like Houston minister Monique Lampkin who has long yearned to know more about her roots will be able to learn the names of those ancestors who were emancipated slaves in 1865 and their contributions.
Using the Freedmen’s Bureau records in conjunction with the Freedmen’s Bank records, minister Lampkin and her mother were able to discover vital information which they consider “sacred and priceless” in a child support document, a request for wages due, a character reference and in additional information about family residences. And now, with these records being made available online, African-Americans will have a vast library of information from which to draw, thus providing a vital link to their past which will enable them to learn more about their family and where they came from.
Hollis Gentry from the Smithsonian commented that the records will do more than just connect Black families of the present with their family members of the past:
I predict we’ll see millions of living people find living relatives they never knew existed. That will be a tremendous blessing and a wonderful, healing experience. These records were created when these people were alive and immediately after they were freed. You get a sense of them, of their hopes and dreams.
Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month, is an annual observance in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom for remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated annually in the United States and Canada in February, and the United Kingdom in October. (Source: Wikipedia, Black History Month.)
The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week”. This week was chosen because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson created the holiday with the hope that it would eventually be eliminated when Black history became fundamental to American history. (Source: Wikipedia, Black History Month.)
In 1976, the federal government acknowledged the expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month by the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University in February of 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month occurred at Kent State in February of 1970. Six years later during the bicentennial, the expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was recognized by the U.S. government. (Source: Wikipedia, Black History Month.)
On 24 and 25 February 2013, more than 800 people participated in a two-day Black History Month celebration of the Miami Lakes Florida Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with such guests as Mormon recording artist Alex Boyé and author Marvin Perkins. Boyé, who is a member of the world renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, emphasized Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and his performances included “Our Savior’s Love.” Perkins, guest speaker and co-author of “Blacks in the Scriptures,” gave a presentation of “Blacks in the Bible.” (more…)
“Africa has been held in reserve by the Lord,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in an October 2010 visit to Burundi. “Africa will someday be seen as a bright land full of gospel hope and happiness.” 
Africa is one of the fastest growing areas of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (mistakenly referred to as the Mormon Church by members of other faiths) with some 320,000 members, the majority of whom have joined the Church over the past 30 years. These faithful Saints have found that hope and happiness spoken of by Elder Holland through embracing the teachings of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Every year, as congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ continue to grow in different areas of the world, several dozen new stakes (congregational groups similar to Catholic dioceses) are organized.
In December 2012, Elder Holland organized the 3,000th worldwide stake of The Church of Jesus Christ in Freetown, Sierra Leone. This is the first stake in the West African nation and is comprised of eight congregations (approximately 3,000 members.) “So much is happening that there seems to be this momentum, and it really seems to be featuring now the African moment, in a sense,” Elder Holland says.  (more…)
According to The Birmingham News, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church) has named Peter M. Johnson, who served a mission to Birmingham, Alabama from 1987 to 1989, as the Bessemer, Alabama Stake President, the first Black regional leader for Mormons in Alabama. Johnson and his family were living in Utah and have just recently moved back to Alabama.
A stake is an administrative unit of The Church of Jesus Christ comprised of multiple congregations – the smaller congregations are called branches and the larger ones are called wards. It may be compared to a Roman Catholic Church diocese. The name “stake” is derived from the metaphor employed by Isaiah, comparing Zion to a tent fastened securely by stakes:
Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken (Isaiah 33:20.) (more…)
Without mentioning their last names, when people hear the names Jabari and Ziggy, the first thing that may come to mind is that they are two popular rap or hip-hop singers. However, such is not the case, at least not in this particular case. If the names Jabari and Ziggy are mentioned on the campus of Brigham Young University, sports fans immediately recognize that the persons being spoken of are Jabari Parker and Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah. Both are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and both are sports legends in their own right – Jabari Parker being well known in the world of basketball, and “Ziggy” Ansah being well known in the world of football. Jabari is finishing high school in Chicago and “Ziggy” is a senior at BYU in Provo, Utah.
Ezekiel Ansah, the son of Edward and Elizabeth Ansah, was born in Accra, Ghana. His favorite food is fufu and peanut butter soup. He excels at FIFA soccer. He speaks Twi and Fante, two local Ghanaian dialects and surprisingly enough his favorite athlete is LeBron James, the one to whom Jabari Parker is compared with as for his basketball skills and talents. He is majoring in actuarial science with a minor in mathematics. He enrolled at BYU in 2008 and participated on the track team in 2009 before joining the football team in 2010.  (more…)
This website is not owned by or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the Mormon or LDS Church). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the position of the Church. The views expressed by individual users are the responsibility of those users and do not necessarily represent the position of the Church. For the official Church websites, please visit LDS.org or Mormon.org.