Described as “The Great American Desert” and considered by Caucasians as only suitable for “Indian” habitation, Kansas held a primary role in igniting the growth of black settlements in the Midwest. Because of its proximity to the slave-holding states of Missouri and Arkansas, the isolation of Kansas provided a safe haven for liberation-seeking Africans but federal legislation proposed, and in many cases adopted, methods to eliminate this refuge.
Beginning in 1820 and continuing until the mid-1850s, several federal “Southern Compromises” were initiated to promote the proliferation of slavery throughout the so-called Indian Territories, and in particular the state of Kansas. Political parties were created specifically around the issue of slavery and attempted to control the political balance. Both pro-slavery and free-state sympathizers began to set up towns and to recruit settlers. As the debate over “slave” vs “free” was waged, armed struggle became commonplace. The”Sack of Lawrence” and John Brown’s infamous Pottawatomie Massacre were reflective of the level of violence which lead to the slogan, “Bleeding Kansas.”
By 1854 the enslaved population of Kansas had grown significantly. By the late 1850s, this group was increasingly displaced by growing numbers of “free Africans” and “fugitive or runaway Africans” traveling along the Underground Railroad. As identified in the 1855 census, the population reflected 151 free Africans and 192 enslaved Africans living in the state. However, by 1860 there were 625 “free Africans as compared to only two “enslaved” individuals living in 23 separate towns. Kansas became the destination of various black colonization groups during the early 1870s, the most successful of which was the Tennessee Real Estate and Homestead Association, formed in 1869 by Benjamin “Pap” Singleton.
The initial objective of this group was to encourage independence-minded Africans to buy land in Tennessee. However, faced with opposition from Caucasian land owners and “artificially set” high prices, the settlers abandoned their attempt. These early efforts would nevertheless spawn an immigration movement culminating in the Great Exodus of 1879-1881. A period in which an estimated 60,000 Africans entered the state. Disgusted with the racial prejudice he encountered in Kansas, Singleton would eventually abandon his efforts to colonize in the United States and formed the United Transatlantic Society to promote the establishment of a separate black nation.
Singleton, whose efforts were the precursor to Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association, considered organized emigration to Canada, Liberia, Cypress and Ethiopia.
Nicodemus (click for detail)
The first of several colonies to be established under the leadership of “Pap” Singleton. Settled in 1874, this successful colony had an initial population of 300 people and was located on 1000 acres near Baxter Springs in Cherokee County. By 1878, the settlement included adequate housing [cabins], livestock and fruit trees to sustain the community. In 1881, the Agricultural and Industrial Institute for the Refugees was founded on 400 acres of land near Columbus and continued to operate until 1885, when it closed due to a lack of funds. Singleton challenged the need for highly educated “Political Negroes” stating, “it was the muscle of the arm, the men that worked, that we wanted.”
Founded May, 1878 on the eastern border of Morris County, Dunlap was established by Singleton’s Tennessee-based colonization group. The colony, located adjacent to the white town of Dunlap, was situated on 7,500 acres of government land purchased for $1.25/acre. Each colonist was required to purchase his/her own land, with the various plots ranging from 10 to 160 acres. Although the first year was extremely difficult, subsequent years brought prosperity to the settlement. Education was highly valued and the colony soon established four schools. The colony would also became home to the Literary and Business Academy with Andrew Atchison as principal.
Dunlap, the last of Singleton’s colonies, received wide spread attention because of the extensive distribution of circulars in which he highlighted the advantages of the “fine rolling prairie, plenty of stone and water and coal within twenty-five miles.” He continued his circular campaign through the Exodus of 1879-1881 in an attempt to attract migrants to the colonies he had established and to inspire the creation of others.
In 1881 Singleton was called before a special committee of the U.S. Senate to explain the “alarming” exodus of the blacks from the South. Proclaiming himself, “Father of the Exodus,” he outlined his colonization efforts, stating that he had personally guided 7,432 Africans to Kansas.
The colony, located about three miles northeast of present-day Jetmore, was established in September 1877, by Africans emigrating from Lexington and Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Approximately one hundred fifty settlers filed articles of incorporation for the Morton City Town Company and began to lay out streets and construct homes.
The town at one time, included three houses, more than nine dugouts and a frame building for the store. The settlers soon realized, however, that it was not economically feasible to establish a town so far in the wilderness, and decided instead to take up individual homesteads.
Robert Johnson, one of the original inhabitants of the area and considered affluent for the times, opened a livery stable in nearby Kinsley and in 1879 had forty animals and an income of $150 a month. Remnants of the Morton City townsite and a few surrounding homesteads still remain today.
An Exoduster settlement located near Jersey Creek and now a part of Kansas City.
Settled in 1887 by “Exodusters,” the town continued to exist until 1927. Has now been incorporated as part of Kansas City.
Named for its founder, William Hogg, the settlement is now part of West Heights Manor, an exclusive white residential area in Kansas City.
A colony of Exodusters sponsored by the Kansas Freedmen’s Relief Association in 1879. Located about 50 miles northwest of Topeka, the town included 30 families who purchased 40 acre tracts of land at a cost of $2.65 an acre. By December of 1880, the community was reported as being self-sufficient. The most prominent member of the colony was Isaiah T. Montgomery, who was to later own the former plantation of Joseph Davis, brother to Confederate president, Jefferson Davis.
Founded in the late 1850’s by freed Africans and abolitionists, Quindaro supported a thriving community until the early 20th century. Since that time, “Old Quindaro” has been incorporated into the city of Kansas City proper. The Black Freedman’s University, later renamed Western University, was established in 1877 and was jointly operated by the state of Kansas and the AME Church. Many of the original black churches remain, as does the local black cemetery.
Today, Quindaro remains a viable community and is studied as a significant archaeological site by the Kansas State Historical Society.
Settled by approximately 500 African American refugees from Tennessee, the town was locate in the vicinity of North Topeka. Part of the town still exists in area bounded by Buchanan and Washburn Streets.
One of the oldest black settlements in the Topeka area, the town was established in the 1850’s and was located on the southern bank of the Kansas River. “The Bottoms” was destroyed by Urban Renewal in the 1960’s.
A very small colony formed in 1879 when a group of Africans headed for Nicodemus, separated from the caravan and settled near the Swedish community of Falun. As farmers gradually left the area, Summit eventually merged with the town of Falun. The last resident, David Price, sold his property to the U.S. government for a bombing range in 1942.
Daniel Votaw Colony
Founded in 1881 by Daniel Votaw, a Quaker social worker and an agent for the Kansas Freedmen’s Relief Association. The colony was comprised of a group of African Americans from Texas who migrated under the leadership of Paul Davis. The colony disbanded in 1900 due to severe flooding of the Verdigris River and the death of Davis.
Little Coney Colony
With Rev. Alfred Fairfax as president, Little Coney was incorporated in 1881. Fairfax, who himself had been enslaved, brought 200 families to the area in early 1880. Before coming to Kansas he had served in the Union Army and had been very active in Louisiana politics. He was elected to Congress in 1878 but unfortunately, had to flee Democratic mobs intent on preventing him from taking office.