BLACK TOWNS IN KANSAS AND OKLAHOMA- THESE BLACKS KNEW THAT WHITES WOULD NOT ALLOW THEM FREEDOM IN THE NORTH SO SET OUT TO BE INDEPENDENT OF WHITES AFTER SLAVERY!-MY ANCESTORS WERE AMONG THEM AND HERE I AM MAKING THE BEST DESTINATION-BACK TO AFRICA THESE LAST 37 YEARS!

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1870_1880exodust

Big-TownSM

NICODEUS

Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries [Frank Phillips Collection, #975]
Black Indian Woman

By 1900, African Americans outnumbered the Native American population in areas that had been set aside as Indian Territory by the federal government. One Native American newspaper commented on the irony of whites stealing “land from the Indians only to have negroes take it from them.” African Americans and American Indians often intermarried and formed a mixed population.
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The Western Migration
Overview
The Early Black West
The Far West
To Kansas
Migration to Oklahoma
Moving Further West
To the Cities
The Golden State
World War II and After in the Black West
References
Links

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Kansas, which had been a sanctuary for runaways during the Civil War, continued to loom large in the minds of many African-American Southerners. Between 1870 and 1890, some thirty thousand migrants settled in the state. Kansas was the closest western state to the Old South that allowed blacks to homestead in the 1870s, and it became a magnet for land-hungry newcomers from Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, as well as such Deep South states as Louisiana and Mississippi.
The New Man: Twenty-nine Years a Slave, Twenty-nine Years a Free Man The New Man: Twenty-nine Years a Slave, Twenty-nine Years a Free Man by Henry Clay Bruce
Law, Politics and Leavenworth: A Beginning , Chapter TwoA Black Odyssey: John Lewis Waller and the Promise of American Life, 1878-1900 Law, Politics and Leavenworth: A Beginning , Chapter Two from A Black Odyssey: John Lewis Waller and the Promise of American Life, 1878-1900 by Randall Bennett Woods
Migration to Kansas Preceding the Exodus , Chapter 12Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction Migration to Kansas Preceding the Exodus , Chapter 12 from Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction by Nell Irvin Painter

The 1862 Homestead Act applied to Kansas and other western states and territories: settlers – regardless of their race or gender – could pay a small filing fee and receive 160 acres from the federal government. In return, they agreed to reside on the land, and improve it over a five-year period. After six months, they could purchase the property for $1.25 an acre.

Another factor pulling black migrants to Kansas was the state’s powerful abolitionist tradition. Here, John Brown had first battled to free slaves, and here the first black soldiers joined the Union Army. Kansas had welcomed the Emancipation Proclamation and was among the first to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. “I am anxious to reach your state,” wrote a black Louisianian to the governor of Kansas in 1879, “not because of the great race [for land] now made for it but because of the sacredness of her soil washed by the blood of humanitarians for the cause of black freedom.”

After the Civil War, thousands of African Americans relocated to areas free of racial restrictions and violence.
Interview with Bill SimsKansas Narratives, Volume 6 Interview with Bill Sims from Kansas Narratives, Volume 6
The Eldorado of their Foolish Dreams , Chapter 6In Search of Canaan: Black Migration to Kansas, 1879-80 The Eldorado of their Foolish Dreams , Chapter 6 from In Search of Canaan: Black Migration to Kansas, 1879-80 by Robert G. Athearn

The first of these “political migrations” was a mid-1870s exodus from Tennessee. It was led by Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, who recognized the limitations of Reconstruction-era political reform in the South.
United States. Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States. “Testimony of Benjamin Singleton,” Report and testimony of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States: in three parts. United States. Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States. “Testimony of Benjamin Singleton,” Report and testimony of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States: in three parts.

Singleton had escaped a dozen times during his years of enslavement, finally reaching Canada as a passenger on the Underground Railroad. In 1874, while working as a carpenter in Nashville, he distributed a circular, The Advantage of Living in a Free State, encouraging migration to Kansas. At least ten thousand African Americans journeyed to the Sunflower State between 1874 and 1890, partly in response to his call.
United States. Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States. “Testimony of J.W. Wheeler,” Report and testimony of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States: in three parts. United States. Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States. “Testimony of J.W. Wheeler,” Report and testimony of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States: in three parts.

In 1877, a white developer, together with six prospective black homesteaders from the South, founded the town of Nicodemus. They envisioned a self-sustaining, self-governing black agricultural community on the Kansas frontier. Named after a legendary African prince who purchased his freedom from bondage, the new town quickly captured the nation’s attention. In July, the first thirty colonists arrived from Kentucky. They were joined the following spring by an additional 150 men and women from Tennessee, Missouri, and Mississippi.

Nothing in their experiences had prepared the migrants for life on the Kansas frontier. The flat, barren, windswept High Plains, known for blazing summer heat and bitter winter cold, were better suited to growing cactus than corn and wheat. One of the settlers, Williana Hickman, was dismayed to discover that the townsfolk lived not in houses, but in dugouts. “We landed and struck tents,” she recalled. “The scenery was not at all inviting and I began to cry.”

Despite their initial misgivings, Hickman and most of the early colonists stayed on. By 1880, 258 blacks and 58 whites resided in the town and the surrounding area. For African Americans across the country, Nicodemus became an important symbol of self-governance and economic enterprise.
Nicodemus, Kansas , Chapter 1Black Towns and Profit: Promotion and Development in the Trans-Appalachian West, 1877-1915 Nicodemus, Kansas , Chapter 1 from Black Towns and Profit: Promotion and Development in the Trans-Appalachian West, 1877-1915 by Kenneth Marvin Hamilton

But the town’s prospects were always precarious and, in the 1880s, it underwent a steady decline. The winter blizzards of 1885 destroyed 40 percent of the wheat crop, and settlers began to leave. Two years later, the Missouri Pacific Railroad bypassed the town and, as was the case for hundreds of other communities cut off from the railway, Nicodemus’s fate was sealed. After 1888, local boosters ceased trying to attract new settlers, and prominent citizens left the area.

In the summer of 1879, a few hundred people settled in Morris and Graham counties – the vanguard of some six thousand Southern African Americans who would join the exodus to Kansas.
The Negro Exodus from the Gulf States The Negro Exodus from the Gulf States by Douglass, Frederick, 1817?-1895

Although the so-called Kansas Fever conjured up images of a leaderless movement of impoverished freed men and women, driven by blind faith toward a better place, it was a rational response to conditions in the South. When a St. Louis Globe reporter asked a woman with a child at her breast if she would return to her former home, she replied, “What, go back! . . . I’d sooner starve here.”
The Exodus of 1879The Journal of Negro History, vol. 21, no. 2 (April 1936) The Exodus of 1879 from The Journal of Negro History, vol. 21, no. 2 (April 1936) by John G. Van Dusen
Benjamin, or ‘Pap,’ Singleton and His FollowersThe Journal of Negro History, vol 33. no. 1 (January 1948) Benjamin, or ‘Pap,’ Singleton and His Followers from The Journal of Negro History, vol 33. no. 1 (January 1948) by Roy Garvin
Negro Exodus: Report of Col. Frank H. Fletcher, Agent Appointed by the St. Louis Commission to Visit Kansas for the Purpose of Obtaining Information in Regard to Colored Emigration Negro Exodus: Report of Col. Frank H. Fletcher, Agent Appointed by the St. Louis Commission to Visit Kansas for the Purp… by Frank H. Fletcher

But Topeka Mayor Michael C. Case spoke for many of his city’s white residents when he refused to spend municipal funds to aid the Exodusters, as they were called, suggesting the money would be better used to return them to the South. The Topeka Colored Citizen, on the other hand, celebrated the migration: “Our advice . . . to the people of the South, Come West, Come to Kansas . . . it is better to starve to death in Kansas than be shot and killed in the South.”

The Kansas exodus ended almost as suddenly as it had begun. Its demise was the result of neither white opposition, nor of the advice of leaders such as Frederick Douglass that African Americans remain in the South, nor of the machinations of swindlers who preyed on the people’s gullibility. Rather, word filtered back that little free land remained and that many Exodusters were still destitute a year after their arrival. Southern blacks realized that Kansas was not the “promised land.” Although migration from Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana continued after 1880, it never reached the level of the spring and summer of 1879.
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Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply
Reverend Daniel Hickman

African Americans tended to migrate to the West in a predictable pattern. Sometimes, entire towns relocated together, encouraged to move by homestead associations or promoters. Of the six African Americans who organized the Nicodemus Town Company, five were natives of Kentucky. President W.H. Smith hailed from Tennessee. Reverend Daniel Hickman led one of the first groups of settlers from Kentucky to Nicodemus.
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Benjamin “Pap” Singleton

Benjamin “Pap” Singleton (1809-92) was born a slave in Nashville, Tennessee and lived as a fugitive in Detroit. After the Civil War, he returned to Tennessee to establish an independent black society. However, racist laws and practices inhibited African Americans from purchasing land within the state. Therefore, working with W. A. Sizemore, Columbus Johnson, and several other former slaves, Singleton promoted the migration of African Americans to Kansas. From 1877 to 1879, he and his associates led several hundred migrants.
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http://www.inmotionaame.org/gallery/detail.cfm?migration=6&topic=4&type=image&id=574913
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Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply
David City Colony

African Americans were attracted to Kansas because of its abolitionist roots, and they were eligible to settle there under the terms of the 1862 Homestead Act. The largest number of black settlers came to Kansas from Kentucky and Tennessee between 1877 and 1880. They became known as Exodusters. Several black settlements sprang up in Kansas. Among them were Singleton – from the name of the Exodusters’ leader – in Cherokee County, Morton City in Edwards County, Hodgeman Colony and David City Colony in Hodgeman County, and Dunlap in Morris County.
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Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply
David City Colony

African Americans were attracted to Kansas because of its abolitionist roots, and they were eligible to settle there under the terms of the 1862 Homestead Act. The largest number of black settlers came to Kansas from Kentucky and Tennessee between 1877 and 1880. They became known as Exodusters. Several black settlements sprang up in Kansas. Among them were Singleton – from the name of the Exodusters’ leader – in Cherokee County, Morton City in Edwards County, Hodgeman Colony and David City Colony in Hodgeman County, and Dunlap in Morris County.
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Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [HABS, KANS,33-NICO,1-6]
Early Homestead in Nicodemus

During the Civil War, the African-American population of Kansas increased from just 627 in 1861 to over 12,000 in 1865. Some white Kansans expressed concern. Richard Cordley, a white abolitionist, dismissed their fears: “The negroes are not coming. They are here. They will stay here. They are American born. They have been here for more than two hundred and fifty years…. It is not for us to say whether they will be our neighbors or not…. It is only for us to say what sort of neighbors they shall be, and whether we will fulfill our neighborly obligations” Richard Cordley, Pioneer Days in Kansas (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1903).
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Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [HABS, KANS,33-NICO,1-7]
Washington Street, Nicodemus

The first thirty settlers arrived in Nicodemus in July 1877. The following spring, another 150 joined them. The First Baptist Church, erected in 1879 under the auspices of Reverend Daniel Hickman, was a sod and dugout structure. By 1880, a one-room stone sanctuary had been added to the site. That year, 258 African Americans lived in Nicodemus, and most settlers had succeeded in planting 10 to 15 acres of wheat and corn. One resident, R.B. Scruggs, supplemented his income by driving a freight wagon and working on the railroad. His hard work enabled him to expand his original 120-acre homestead into a 720-acre farm. The first two-story building was Williams General Store, erected in 1879. It is on the right in this 1885 photograph. By 1886, the town boasted three churches, three hotels, a livery, a blacksmith, a newspaper, and a schoolhouse.

2 Responses to “BLACK TOWNS IN KANSAS AND OKLAHOMA- THESE BLACKS KNEW THAT WHITES WOULD NOT ALLOW THEM FREEDOM IN THE NORTH SO SET OUT TO BE INDEPENDENT OF WHITES AFTER SLAVERY!-MY ANCESTORS WERE AMONG THEM AND HERE I AM MAKING THE BEST DESTINATION-BACK TO AFRICA THESE LAST 37 YEARS!”

  1. Velma Elaine Phlegm Watson Says:

    You are saying that the movie Posse was based on some factual African Americans, as the old man, Woodie Strodes spoke of Nicodemus, KA and all the horrors of Blacks trying to create and settle their own communities. We were going to CA and passed through an area that was a Black Community, founded by a Black Soldier. The nearest White town refused to allow them to utilize their their town’s water and the state of CA did nothing to help the settlers. I found that odd, since the first governor of CA was a Black Spaniard and the first mayor of Los Angeles was a Spanish/Black Man. The first Black Millionaire, made his millions in CA. His holdings had Whites from everywhere claiming to be his only surviving relative. He died at 38 years old and left no Will. I am not sure who presented strong enough lies to secure his fortune, but his ventures demonstrates that if he could accomplish what he did back then, surely we can hold onto what we seek long enough to possess it one day. I had a visitor, who asked me to help him find his great, great grand parents who were the first Blacks to migrate to Idaho. In my search, I found that everything he said was true, however, their children went to CA and WA. Consequently, their land was upon their deaths went to the nearest White neighbor, who produced fake papers to secure the land, by the time the children and grandchildren went for the grandfather’s, the longest liver of the couple, funeral. It seems no matter how much we accomplish, it eventually moves into the hands of those who opposed who we are and who our ancestors were. We are still holding onto land that our Black Ancestors and their White Master{s} settled on in 1818 TX. I am in the process of doing a agricultural loan to purchase a portion of the land my great grandfather owned that is connected to our existing land. We want to create a facility where Black intercity youths can come visit, concentrate on Reading, Writing, and Mathematics with emphasis on learning true Black History, United States and World. We need your prayers……

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