Visit Nicodemus Kansas to Celebrate Black History Month

(an excerpt from Myths & Mysteries of Kansas)

exodusters

Photo by Diana Lambdin Meyer

In the history of the Old West, an endless number of towns were founded with the vision of grand metropolises flourishing on the prairie. An equally endless number have disappeared over the years, many not even receiving the status of ghost town or a historical marker identifying where these dreams died. So what is it about Nicodemus Kansas, population 29, that has kept it alive for almost 140 years?  What makes it worthy of National Park status?

The Promised Land in Kansas

When the Civil War ended in 1865, the slaves were emancipated and filled with the hope and optimism that is synonymous with freedom. But after a few years, the realities of Reconstruction, racial divisions, the Ku Klux Klan and so much more began to sink in.

Black History MonthKansas, however, was out there, a place where slavery had never been permitted. “The Promised Land” it was called by Governor George Anthony and others who believed that they were obligated to encourage the former slaves to find a safe home here.

Later these people would be called “exodusters,” but in September 1877 when 350 free blacks left Lexington Kentucky for Kansas, they were simply heading toward freedom.

 The dream led them to the banks of the Solomon River in northwest Kansas. At its height, the population was about 650 people. Nicodemus offered two newspapers, a post office, grocery and hardware stores, schools, churches, a bank and a baseball team. It was a premiere example of an African American community and exemplary of what their freedom allowed. It was a typically American community.

Then, the railroads came, but passed by Nicodemus. Later the interstates came, and they too, by-passed Nicodemus. Rural towns began to suffer as new generations moved away to larger communities with more opportunities.

The descendants of Nicodemus settlers are spread far and wide, many making great contributions to the communities in which they live, in their chosen professions and as a result, to their states and country.

Black History in Nicodemus Kansas

black history monthNicodemus was the first town west of the Mississippi built by and for black settlers, and today it remains the last.  In November 1996, the little town became a unit of the National Park Service dedicated to telling the story of these these pioneers who accomplished so much with so little, surviving the odds with a spirit not unlike the Mayflower Pilgrims who, with a dream of freedom from persecution, helped build a great nation.


 

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