Message from President H. Patrick Swygert to the Howard University Community
November 28, 2000

I would like to share with you two very important developments, both of which underscore Howard University's rich legacy and our commitment to scholarship and research.

On November 6th, President William Jefferson Clinton signed into law the Freedmens Bureau Records Preservation Act of 2000.  This measure requires the Archivist of the United States to take steps to preserve the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, usually referred to as the Freedmens Bureau.  Further, the new statute directs the Archivist of the United States to use "(2) the results of the pilot project with the University of Florida to create future partnerships with Howard University and other institutions for the purposes of indexing these records and making them more easily accessible to the public, including historians, geneologists, and students."

The Freedmens Bureau's records comprise a body of material numbering more than 600,000 items, including letters, minutes, official records, exhibits, diaries and other documents representing the work of the Bureau from its establishment in 1865 to its abolishment in 1872.  The materials are in a serious state of disrepair and at risk of being lost forever.

We owe a great debt to Representatives Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) and J.C. Watts (R-OK), who sponsored this legislation.  We also deeply appreciate the gracious invitation of Representative Stephen Horn (R-CA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology who recognized "the need to protect this aspect of American history," and provided an opportunity for me to testify in support of this legislation on October 18.

I especially want to thank Howard alumnus J. Russell George, Esq., (B.A. '85), Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the Subcommittee on Government Management,  Information and Technology.  His counsel and support was instrumental in enabling the successful passage of this legislation, and his work is indicative of that Howard brand of leadership found in our alumni and alumnae.

Thanks also to my colleagues in the Department of History and Dr. Thomas Battle of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection.

The second development also underscores the University's scholarship and determination to make all of our nation's history available to the world.

On Friday, November 17, I joined Dr. Joseph Reidy, professor of history and Associate Dean of the Graduate School, and Vice Admiral Edward Moore Jr., the highest-ranking African American in the U.S. Navy, and representatives of the National Park Service at a memorial service honoring the 18,000 African Americans (including 11 women) who served on nearly every one of the 700 Union ships during the Civil War.

It is significant that the identification of these 18,000 sailors nearly doubles the number of African American sailors researchers expected to find.  Authorities originally assumed that about 10,000 had participated in the Civil War, but the Naval Historical Center, in conjunction with the Howard University study, and the National Park Service, documented an additional 8,000 African American sailors.

Under Dr. Reidy's leadership, a team of Howard University researchers (comprised primarily of faculty and graduate students in the Department of History) examined hundreds of thousands of pages of naval records housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for evidence about African American sailors.

The sailors' names and military history will now be incorporated into the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System Database (CWSS), the product of a partnership formed in 1993 among Howard University, the Department of the Navy and the National Park Service.  Personal information, naval service and muster records included in the database are accessible through the Internet at www.CivilWar.NPS.Gov/cwss/sailors_index.html.

I wish to thank our faculty and students for their excellent work in completing this important task.  It confirms the past and serves to preserve the service of these men and women for their descendants and this nation.


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February 2001