CREATED 150 YEARS AGO, the Justice Department’s First Mission Was to Protect Black Rights
By Bryan Greene in SMITHSONIANMAGAZINE.COM
Amos T. Akerman was an unlikely figure to head the newly formed Department of Justice. In 1870, the United States was still working to bind up the nation’s wounds torn open by the Civil War. During this period of Reconstruction, the federal government committed itself to guaranteeing full citizenship rights to all Americans, regardless of race. At the forefront of that effort was Akerman, a former Democrat and enslaver from Georgia, and a former officer in the Confederate Army.
Though the United States had had an Attorney General since the formation of the government in 1789, none had been empowered with the full force of a consolidated legal team quite like Akerman. And none had had the monumental task of enforcing the 14th and 15th Amendments and new legislation delivering long overdue rights to four million formerly enslaved black men and women. This department’s work on behalf of the emancipated population was so central to its early mission that Akerman established the department’s headquarters in the Freedman’s Savings Bank Building. CLICK TO CONTINUE