Can an “address” to recently freed slaves have meaning today?

On July 1, 1865 the Head Quarters Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands for the Commonwealth of Virginia addressed the freedmen of Virginia. The text of this address states in pertinent part:

Having been appointed Assistant Commissioner in the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands for the State of Virginia, it becomes my duty to look after all matters that pertain to your welfare, to endeavor to teach you how to use that freedom you have so earnestly desired, and to prevent the abuse of it by yourselves or others.

The difference between your former and your present condition is this: formerly your labor was directed and the proceeds of it taken by your masters, and you were cared for by them, now you are to direct and receive the proceeds of your own labor and care for yourselves.

Can you do this is the question you must now answer to the world. Your friends believe you can and will. The Government and charity will aid you, but this assistance will be of little advantage unless you help yourselves. To do this you must be industrious and frugal. You have now every inducement to work, as you are to receive the payment for your labor, and you have every inducement to save your wages, as your rights in what you possess will be protected. You have now no master to provide for you in sickness and old age, hence you must see the necessity of saving your wage while you are able to work for this purpose.

Frugal, industrious, save your wages (prior to the Great Recession, many Americans had forgotten these values).

During February, Black History Month, are these values taught? Economic independence, self-sufficiency, not relying heavily on the government or charity. These concepts should be a fundamental part of celebrating Black History Month. More importantly, these concepts should be taught to children and teenagers on a regularly basis, not just during the month of February.


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