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.