Little Known Black History Fact: Nicodemus, Kansas

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  • Nicodemus, Kansas is a small community in north central Kansas, named after an escaped slave who bought his way to freedom. On April 18, 1877, six freed slaves and one white man, W.R. Hill, formed the town council. They would recruit over 350 ex-slaves who came by train and foot to start the town. With limited resources like timber to build adequate homes, the people lived in dugouts that caused major issues like infestation, ventilation and leaky roofs.

    As the town took shape, a full city was built that included a hotel, stores and retail shops. However, the town was lacking a railroad system that was needed to transport goods for merchants. As a result, many residents moved to nearby towns, causing a majority abandonment of Nicodemus.

    Although many residents left, many of the town structures remained in tact. In the 1970’s, a city revitalization effort was underway. The city continues to uphold the stone buildings and town landscape that was once a solid sign of progression for the town of ex-slaves, who were determined to build their own society.

    On November 12, 1996, the city of Nicodemus, Kansas was designated a national historical site by the U.S. National Park Service. The city is the oldest black town in the Midwest. Proud Midwesterners continue to keep the legacy of Nicodemus alive through an annual celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation in Nicodemus on August 1st.

    AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Carol Alexander, one of our favorite listeners for that black history fact.
     

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    2 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: Nicodemus, Kansas

    1. Casita Chronicles

      May 19,20,21

      These days have passed so quickly visiting with neighbors, friends and relatives in my beloved Oz. Rajni has been working in the Garden while I have been working (playing) with my little frankenstein (Big Blue) the truck I made myself. It is functional but has so many quirks that its use on a consistent basis is questionable. It cannot be relied on to perform with any kind of certainty. The biggest one being the alternator does not seem to charge the battery high enough to turn the motor over at times. I am wondering if the fact that it is a diesel and the rpm’s are lower? It is a mystery to be dealt with another time. The weather has been pleasant with numerous short thunderstorms. There was a massive tornado south in Oklahoma in which people were killed. I remarked about the community of black (colored) people that once inhabited this area. Few remain that can remember them but there are stories one of which I will recount. It is about nigger Watts. This was his name to which he was called and referred to himself. It is unclear whether it was his first name, last name or only name. He homesteaded land some 6 miles from my place. He was a former slave and he tenaciously farmed his land till his death. The story goes that he was so poor he only had one set of cloths so he would work and live naked on his farm and use his cloths only when going into town. Another story about him was he once asked a neighbor to borrow an ax to chop wood. When the neighbor told him to be careful not to break the handle he carefully took the handle out and whittled his own used the ax and then replaced the original before returning it. He was regarded as an honest and respected man. His small wooden house of one room is nothing but a roofless shamble with a couple of walls left today. I went over there and took a few pictures. My nearest neighbor Duane Vonada remembers him from his youth in the 30′s. He recalls driving by his place and Watts would be on his porch an old man waving at people as they passed. We will leave soon and continue our journey heading to Lawrence and points beyond.

    2. Dear Carol
      I think this black history fact could have a lot more detail especially about the ex-slave Nicodemus who founded the town. This just seems lacking in all areas of the history of the town and people.

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