This video from Finding Your Roots uncovers the origins of Derek Jeter’s family surname. Using family stories, local archives, and census records, students learn about Derek Jeter’s great-great-grandfather, Green W. Jeter.
The Transition from Slavery to Freedom in the South
In 1865 the Civil War was over and the fractured nation was tasked with picking up the pieces and starting to rebuild. But how would the government begin this process? Who would be involved and what did the war's end mean for newly freed African American men and women living in the South?
The answer lies in the founding of the Freedmen's Bureau, or, more formally, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, which was created by Congress in March 1865 to assist for one year in the transition from slavery to freedom in the South. The Bureau was given "the supervision and management of all abandoned lands, and the control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen, under such rules and regulations as may be presented by the head of the Bureau and approved by the President."
The Bureau was run by the War Department, and its first and most significant commissioner was General O.O. Howard, a Civil War hero sympathetic to African Americans and their struggle for equality. Responsibilities of the Bureau included introducing a system of free labor, overseeing some 3,000 schools for freed persons, settling disputes and enforcing contracts between (typically) white landowners and their African-American labor force, and securing justice for freedmen in state courts. The Bureau was renewed by a Congressional bill in 1866 but was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, who believed it was unconstitutional—Johnson was opposed to having the federal government secure rights for African Americans. Nevertheless, Congress passed the bill over his veto.
Despite the efforts of the Bureau, however, Southern whites were essentially opposed to blacks having any rights at all, and the Bureau lacked the military force necessary to enforce its authority—the army had been quickly disbanded with most of the soldiers reassigned to the Western frontier. But the Bureau was able to accomplish some of its goals, especially in the field of education. It established a number of colleges and training schools for African Americans, including Howard University (named for General Howard) and Hampton Institute.
General Howard believed the mission of the Freedmen’s Bureau was a temporary one, wanting to avoid black dependency on the federal agency. He firmly believed that African Americans should obtain all their rights as quickly as possible but failed to see that because of Southern white hostility, long-term support was necessary for them to succeed. The Bureau also failed to bring together whites and blacks in the South because it lacked the means to do so. It needed support from Southern and Northern politicians and received little help from either. Soon, many Southern states enforced “black codes,” or laws that greatly inhibited the rights of African Americans. The Freedmen’s Bureau staff was cut significantly by 1869 and it ceased operations entirely in 1872.
In the first video, what images are revealed to Derek Jeter and what do they tell us about his great-great-grandfather’s life?
What was unique about Green W. Jeter’s church? What did it offer African Americans in his community?
What is the origin of the Jeter family name and how did the show’s researchers uncover this information?
As described in the second video, why is this 1870 census an essential tool for uncovering information about African Americans? What important clues about Green were discovered in this census?
How does Green’s church link him to his suspected father?
What does this video tell us about the suffering, sexual violence, and complexity of slavery? What do you think Derek Jeter means when he says that he hopes the relationship between his third-great-grandparents was "as good as it could be"? What is he actually saying?
After students watch the video and answer the discussion questions, present them with the following prompt: Using the information from these resources, what do you think Green W. Jeter’s experience was like when he transitioned from life as an enslaved person to a free man?
Then, ask students to read the background essay about the Freedmen’s Bureau and answer the following prompt: Using the information presented in the essay, what was life like for the majority of newly freed women and men? Who were their allies and who were their opponents? Encourage students to share their responses with the class.
After reading the background essay, ask students to research and write a short essay about one of the following topics:
The founding of Howard University
The Hampton Institute
President Andrew Johnson’s policies and their impact on African Americans