This book offers the definitive history of how formerly enslaved men and women pursued federal benefits from the Civil War to the New Deal and, in the process, transformed themselves from a stateless people into documented citizens. As claimants, Black southerners engaged an array of federal agencies. Their encounters with the more familiar Freedmen's Bureau and Pension Bureau are presented here in a striking new light, while their struggles with the long-forgotten Freedmen's Branch appear in this study for the very first time.
Based on extensive archival research in rarely used collections, Dale Kretz uncovers surprising stories of political mobilization among tens of thousands of Black claimants for military bounties, back payments, and pensions, finding victories in an unlikely place: the federal bureaucracy. As newly freed, rights-bearing citizens, they negotiated issues of slavery, identity, family, loyalty, dependency, and disability, all within an increasingly complex and rapidly expanding federal administrative state—at once a lifeline to countless Black families and a mainline to a new liberal order.