The lore of the town of Nicodemus, Kansas began on this day in 1877 when a group six former slaves and a white land speculator formed a company to create the first all-Black establishment in the Great Plains. W.H. Smith, who was Black, served as the town’s first president, and W.R. Hill, the land speculator, was its treasurer.
According to historians, the name Nicodemus either came from the figure known in the Holy Bible, an African prince who was enslaved then purchased his freedom. The town was situated near the Solomon River on Hill’s suggestion that it would make for easy farming.
The Nicodemus Town Company, consisting of the aforementioned Smith and Hill, was also composed of Benjamin Carr, Jerry Allsap, the Reverend Simon Roundtree, Jeff Lenze, and William Edmonds, all from Lexington Kentucky. The town was promoted to Black people across the Deep South as an oasis of opportunity, with residential lots going for $5 and commercial lots selling for $75, hefty sums at the time.
The following year, people began settling in Nicodemus by the hundreds. However, it didn’t thrive, as poverty and a lack of resources were prevalent issues. There was also a lack of jobs and an ecosystem in place to help the newly settled residents so many began leaving. And while there was a brief uptick in development, the town fell into disrepair once more after the Great Depression and other economic factors began to impact growth.
In 1976, Nicodemus was named a National Historic Landmark and former residents began pouring money into funds to revitalize the town. Older residents returned to Nicodemus and a yearly celebration on the last weekend in July has brought a sense of pride of what the town once represented. According to reports, just about 20 people reside in the town today, although an exact number as not been cataloged.
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