In the article below independent historian Charlotte Hinger explores the concept of racial uplift, black electoral power and reparations for slavery in the ideals of three early citizens of Nicodemus, the most famous 19th Century black town in the West.
From the summer of 1877 through 1879, approximately six hundred African Americans in organized colonies, clusters of family groups, and small trickles of courageous individuals migrated to the high plains and established Nicodemus, Kansas. For the first time in the history of the United States, enough blacks gathered in a specific region to affect critically important issues indigenous to the settlement of the West.
In just three years time, these African Americans created the first township in Graham County, secured the first official school district, manipulated the election of a biracial Equal Rights Ticket to county positions, persuaded Kansas Governor John Pierce St. John to appoint a black census taker, and controlled the structure of bi-racial political alliances in Graham County. They forced the organization of Graham County when the majority of the whites were bitterly opposed to the move.
For these post-Reconstruction immigrants, Nicodemus had symbolism bordering on the magical. The hopes of blacks for the development of this town were compared to white’s expectations for Jamestown. William Eagleson, editor of the Topeka, Kansas based Colored Citizen, wrote that if the colony at Nicodemus was successful, then the question of “what shall become of the colored race in this country is solved.” He maintained that immigrants from Tennessee and Kentucky, could come into Kansas and “go upon land away from railroads, towns, and almost beyond the limits of civilization itself, and succeed in placing themselves in a comparative state of comfort, and could make a living, that there is no longer need for our people to remain in the abominable South, to be the slaves of the rebels and targets for the muskets of white men. Others predicted “if Nicodemus failed,