The Kansas African American History Trail Written by Angela Bates-Tomkins

September 1, 2008

Kansas African Americans

While there are only a handful of existing sites to remind us of their important role in Kansas history, African Americans are now being recognized in Kansas through memorials, historic designations, and commemorations. Though few, all remaining physical reminders are of significance for they exemplify the existence of the African American and his participation in settling the western frontier. Still fewer sites remind us of the African-American heroes and events of the 20th century. All over the state, Kansans are
working hard through legislative and grass roots efforts to ensure that African-American history in
Kansas is not forgotten but is researched, preserved, and celebrated. African Americans began coming to the promised land of Kansas as early as the 1850s. They came— both freestaters and former slaves—to break virgin prairie sod and to build new homes. In doing so, they changed the color of the face of the Kansas frontier forever, joining white settlers and Native Americans in integrating the prairie. Their legacy of courage carried into the 20th century as Kansans spearheaded the effort to end segregation in America’s public schools. African Americans are now being recognized through memorials, historic designations, and commemorations for their important role in Kansas history.

Fort Blair – Baxter Springs Historical Society

The site of old Fort Blair, which was built with the assistance of the black soldiers, is now owned by the Baxter Springs Historical Society and plans are underway to rebuild it when funds are available. Fort Blair was located just north of the
museum and the battle site is located north and west of Baxter Springs High School. With the western migration of white settlers as well as African Americans, the Native Americans began to see a slow invasion of their land. The Cheyenne,
Arapahoe, Osage, Pawnee, and other Plains tribes began to fight to hold on to their native homelands. As their battles ignited into full-blown war, the U.S. Army increased its regiments insisting that the military need was now in the western frontier where the country was rapidly growing. Many felt enough military assistance already had been given
to reconstruct the war- torn South.

10th Calvary, Fort Leavenworth

In 1866, the African American was given full military status by Congress, and the Army designated the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalries as all Colored regiments. The 10th U.S. Cavalry was organized and headquartered at Fort Leavenworth
where these first official African-American soldiers were given a blue uniform, equipment, and a horse and immediately sent to posts scattered around the state. Dubbed “buffalo soldiers” by the Cheyenne Indians because their hair looked similar to that of the buffalo, these African-American soldiers patrolled throughout Kansas and helped to build forts, lay telegraph lines, guard railroad workers, as well as fight the Native American. Members of the 10th U.S. Cavalry wore the name “buffalo soldier”
with pride, using the buffalo as a symbol in their military insignia.

Although Fort Leavenworth served as headquarters for the 10th U.S. Cavalry, the soldiers were forced, because of prejudice, to camp in a swampy area outside the fort. In this same area today, visitors can peer up at the 14’ Buffalo
Soldier Monument, dedicated by General Colin Powell on July 25, 1992. The monument commemorates the outstanding contributions and military records of the men of the 10th U.S. Cavalry.

The 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalries became the most decorated regiments in U.S. Army history. Twenty- three members received Congressional Medals of Honor for their gallant efforts and exceptional service under such harsh and rigid conditions.
The regiment was disbanded in 1952 when the armed services were integrated. At the U.S. Cavalry Museum at Fort Riley, an exhibit depicting the history and expeditions of the 9th and 10th Cavalries is on display.

After the Civil War, thousands of African Americans left the South looking for new land and a fresh start. Many of these individuals
became know as “exodusters” and moved to Kansas in hopes of finding homes and a new life. The town of Nicodemus,
Kansas founded in 1877 in the rugged, wind-swept plains of the prairie, was one of the many settlements of the exodusters.
At first, the town of Nicodemus grew rapidly during the 1870s and 1880s. Many businesses were established and the population
continued to grow. By 1910, there were over 600 residents of Nicodemus, Kansas. After World War I, Nicodemus began to
decline with the onset of the depression and hard times for local farmers. Although the town never became deserted, the population continued to fall until only a few pioneers remain. On January 7, 1976, Nicodemus became a National Historic
Landmark. In 1993, the National Park Service completed a special resource study to assess a range of options relating to the future management, protection, interpretation, and use of Nicodemus as a site suitable and feasible for addition to the national park system. At the present time legislation concerning the final decision on Nicodemus is still pending in the Congress.
The Nicodemus story reminds us of the African-American pioneers who struggled to carve out an existence on the harsh plains of Kansas after the Civil War and of the bravery and courage of the men and women who struggled to become part of the American fabric in a violent and harsh environment.
—Harry A. Butowsky

Members of the 9th and 10th Cavalries spent much of their time in other Kansas forts and out in the field. From 1867–1869, Fort Larned, now a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service, was the first duty station for the 10th Cavalry. The men were sent to assist in guarding the Santa Fe Trail. Fort Hays also became the temporary station for the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalries during the years of 1867 to 1869 and 1881 to 1885. While the soldiers were stationed at Fort Hays, there were tense racial conditions and many town battles erupted between the soldiers and the white settlers. Several soldiers were lynched as a result. Across from Fort Hays College, near a train truss, a roadside sign marks the place where these soldiers were hung.

Gradually, African Americans moved into the western frontier, first as soldiers and then with a slow and steady migration into and through Kansas as drivers and assistants on wagon trains and stagecoaches and as homesteaders on free
government land. For three seasons in the early 1870s, Wichita was a booming Kansas “cowtown” as thousands of Texas longhorn cattle were driven by cowboys up the Chisholm Trail for shipment east by railroad. More than one-third of the cowboys were African American, Native American, or Mexican.

“Cattle raising dominated the South as a means of livelihood from the end of the 18th century until King Cotton achieved primacy just before the Civil War,” wrote author David Dary in Cowboy Culture. “It was not unusual for a plantation
owner in the South to have slaves on horseback herding and hunting down lost cattle. Descendants of these southern cow-hunters were probably among the first black Texas cowboys.”

According to a Kansas State Historical Society publication titled Cattle Towns, “Black cowboys
rode the ranges of Texas before the Civil War. After the war and abolishment of slavery, many chose to remain cowboys. The black cowboy was very much a part of the long drives north.” Their stories are told at the Old Cowtown Museum in
Wichita, Kansas. During these pioneer years, many African- American towns were organized, platted, and settled. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a former slave from Tennessee, is noted for fueling the great “exodust” of 1879–1880, when an estimated 20,000
African Americans from the south sought the free lands of Kansas. An African-American town organized by Singleton and named after him was located five miles north of Baxter Springs. Singleton was also responsible for assisting and
organizing the Dunlap settlement near Council Grove and Morton City in Hodgeman County. Although there were over a half dozen all African- American settlements in Kansas, little is known about their short-lived histories. Many of these
small towns were organized and promoted by ministers, freed slaves, and former runaway slaves. Nicodemus is the only remaining African- American town that stands as witness to this time in frontier history. Located on the southeastern border of Graham County on the high plains of northwestern Kansas, Nicodemus with fewer than 60 residents, struggles to hold on to its rich past.
The town is the site of the oldest recorded African- American-operated post office in the U.S. It is also the oldest and only remaining African-American town west of the Mississippi River. It survived the lack of a railroad, the Great Depression, and its
residents leaving because of hardship and misfortune. Since 1878, the town has pulled together for its annual Emancipation Celebration in July. Plans are underway for the town to be declared a National Historic Site and incorporated into the
National Park Service.
Angela Bates, President Nicodemus Historical SocietyAngela Bates is President of the Nicodemus Historical
Society. She is a member of the founding family of
Nicodemus, the oldest existing African-American settlement.
Reprinted courtesy of the Kansas
Department of Commerce, KANSAS Magazine,
3rd Issue/1994.

African Americans In Missouri

August 18, 2008

Missouri’s First Blacks
The first Black slaves to enter what would later be named Missouri arrived in 1719 as unwilling participants in the new French mining venture. Des Ursins bought five Blacks with him, and although he failed to find the silver mines he sought, he did discover several rich lead deposits. In 1720, Phillippe Fransois Renault was sent from France to direct lead-mining operations. He may have brought with him as many as 500 Black slaves from the French island of Haiti. These were the first permanent Black residents of Missouri. The Company of the West contracted to supply Renault with 25 additional Blacks annually. By 1725, Renault’s mines were yielding 1,500 pounds of lead per day.

The French Explorers
The arrival of French explorers and traders radically changed slavery among the Indians. The French wanted to buy Indian slaves, providing tribes such as the Osage and Missouri with guns and ammunition in return for captives. Once one tribe acquired weapons, other groups felt compelled to do the same. Consequently, rather than a by-product of conflict, slavery became its cause. The only way to avoid becoming enslaved was to be stronger than the enemy tribe. Strength was often obtained by capturing slaves and bartering them for weapons. The rise of slave-trading for gain had begun.

Free Blacks
The Black men and women who finally gained their freedom at the end of the Civil War were not the first Black freedmen of the state. Although the distinction between free Blacks and slaves was vague, a free Negro class existed through the period of slavery in Missouri. The presence of free Blacks in an all-slave society threatened to undermine the very foundation upon which slavery was built. The continuation of the slave system was based upon the assumption that whites should exercise indisputable control over Blacks. Freedmen, regardless of the theoretical rights and equalities which freedom implied, could not be allowed to subvert that system by acting as if they were as good as whites.

The Versatility of Missouri Slaves
Missouri slaves had a wider range of skills and occupations than slaves in the deep South because of the different type of farming in Missouri. Missouri’s land was abundant and fertile, but the cold weather meant a shorter growing season and did not permit the growth of cotton in large quantities. Farmers and their slaves practiced mixed farming. They produced hemp, tobacco, wheat, oats, hay, corn, and other feed trains. Missouri also became well known for its fine cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs, Consequently, the Missouri slave became a multi-talented worker.

Civil War Soldiers
Putting on the uniform of the United States enhanced the Black man’s self-esteem and his dignity. It gave him a sense of identity with the struggle for human freedom, and compelled him to look beyond his own experiences. Sergeant Prince Rivers, a Black soldier of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, spoke for Black soldiers everywhere when he summed up what the war meant to him: “A new day.” Throughout the former slave trade, Blacks believed a new day dawned. Signs of optimism abounded a new status of freedmen, a new sense of belonging and worth, and new opportunities in education.

The Black Emphasis on Education
As the war drew to a close, many Black and white leaders, aware that slavery was a dying institution, tried to arrange educational opportunities for slaves and free Blacks alike. They viewed education as the single most important key of the black movement into mainstream American society. Black and white educational efforts, on behalf of Blacks, were so large in St. Louis that a Black Board of Education was established. The unofficial board directed four schools with 499 students. By 1865, the system had eight teachers an 600 pupils.

In the spring of 1879, thousands of Southern Blacks passed through St. Louis and Kansas City on their way to Kansas, The Citizens of these two cities had often witnessed the arrival of emigrants traveling west. However, few taxed their resources and patience as did the participants of the Exodus of 1879. Many of the Black emigrants were destitute when they arrived in St. Louis and had no means to continue their journey to Kansas. Within three months, the inhabitants of St. Louis and Kansas City organized relief committees to look after these “Exodusters”.

Migration of the Black Population
when the fighting broke out in 1914, European immigration virtually stopped. Southern Blacks began to move north by the thousands to fill the labor gap. Rural Missouri Blacks, hearing of better economic and social opportunities in the cities, moved to St. Louis and Kansas City to work for factories and railroads. Greater numbers of Blacks living in cities meant overcrowded neighborhoods and unsanitary, crime-ridden living conditions. When Black families resorted to moving into white neighborhoods, white families often retaliated with violence.

Blacks and the Depression
The stock market crash of 1929 sent the American economy in a downward plunge from which it would not recover for more than a decade. Millions of Americans, accustomed to relative comfort and security, faced unemployment, handouts and even soup lines. The Great Depression hit Blacks hardest. They were last to be hired and first to be fired. Picketing was rampant as whites now competed for jobs that were once regarded as “nigger” tasks. The trend was reflected even in the state capitol where white elevator operators replaced blacks.

Civil Rights Movement
When the Civil war brought freedom but no justice, countless African American civil rights leaders, clergy, educators, philanthropists, and public servants fought on. Undeterred by the lash of the whip, the lynch mob, of the law of the land, they held America accountable to its promise of “liberty and justice for all”. Slowly but surely, common, everyday people vanquished the stumbling blocks of segregation that barred African American from America’s courtrooms, hotel rooms, dining rooms, restrooms, emergency rooms, locker rooms, and boardrooms. Each door they pried open led to greater opportunities, not only for African Americans, but for every other disenfranchised group in the land.

Kansas City’s Entrepreneurship 1900-1920
Between 1900 and 1920 a small but steady emerging middle class citizenry began the serious work of building itself economically, politically, and socially. This twenty year span of economic growth was characterized by a growing spirit of entrepreneurship.

African Americans opened a variety of business, largely clustered in two areas. One area was on 18th Street along Paseo, Highland, Vine, and Woodland. African American businesses also opened in the area around 12th Street along Woodland and Vine. Some African American professional offices and a few businesses such as the Burton Publishing Company, Southside Pressing Company, and the Ashcraft Barber Shop were located in Kansas City’s downtown area. And a few businesses such as the Urbank’s Drug Store opened on Independence Avenue near Harrison.

The predominance of African American business in the 18th Street and 12th areas created a new sense of vibrancy and provided residents with the goods, services, and products needed to conduct their daily lives.

Entreprenurial ventures by African Americans in Kansas City paid off for a few. By 1911 operating within the African American community were 85 tailor shops, 75 pool halls, 25 dry cleaners, four undertaking parlors, seven nightclubs, one shoe store, one dry goods store, and a number of restaurants, all of which were owned by African Americans.

By 1915 Kansas City’s African American community had six black stores doing an annual business of $60,000 and six undertakers doing an annual business of $100,000. And in 1920 The Colored Chamber of Commerce was formed.

The Watkins, Gates, and Blankenships’ are just a few Kansas City African American family businesses that started doing this exciting era and still exist today. The history and growth of these business are highlighted in our traveling exhibits.

Barrack Obama Wins Missouri!

February 5, 2008

Barrack Obama won in Missouri
“There is one thing on this February night that we do not need the final results to know,” Obama said at a raucous rally in Chicago. “Our time has come. Our movement is real. And change is coming to America.”

Both candidates won their home states. Clinton claimed contested races in New Jersey and Massachusetts but saw her northeastern streak broken when Obama won Connecticut. The two split the southern states, with Obama winning Alabama and Georgia — both of which have considerable black populations — and Clinton victorious in Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona. Early this morning, Clinton and Obama were running neck and neck in the returns from the New Mexico caucuses.

Obama’s strength in the Midwest — particularly in states that held caucuses — became clear as the night wore on as the freshman Illinois senator won a come-from-behind victory in Missouri as well as caucuses in Minnesota, North Dakota, Kansas, Idaho and Colorado. He also scored a victory in Delaware — the home state of his campaign manager, David Plouffe, and communications director, Dan Pfeiffer.

Because of the proportional manner in which Democrats award delegates, what was once expected to be the final day of the primary and caucus races was cast by both campaigns as simply a big battle in a larger war that could well extend into April and perhaps all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver late this summer.

Clinton’s campaign hailed her victory in Massachusetts as “the upset of the night” in light of the high-profile endorsements Obama received last week from Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Obama’s campaign insisted that the Illinois Democrat had impressively closed the gap with Clinton in the Bay State in recent weeks and that his apparent narrow loss was a sign of strength, not weakness.

Race became a major issue in the days leading up to South Carolina’s contest last month. The Clinton and Obama campaigns traded charges and countercharges about which side was injecting race into the contest. Cooler heads prevailed as a number of neutral observers intervened, but the back-and-forth had significant ramifications.

Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, the most prominent African American elected official in South Carolina, publicly chastised former President Bill Clinton for his attacks on Obama, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) groused privately about the former president’s tactics and went on to endorse Obama.

Obama has resisted putting his race front and center in the campaign in much the same way Senator Clinton has said she is not running as a woman for president but rather running for president as a woman. Still, the historic nature of the choice — either Clinton or Obama would the represent a first — has drawn massive amounts of attention and money to the nomination fight.

Independence, Missouri Black History

February 4, 2008

Modern Sites and Attractions of InterestHere we’ve compiled a list of a few of Independence‘s most notable historic attractions and sites. When you visit Missouri, make sure to search out and stop at the following places which offer ties to African-American legacy and celebrate in black heritage.

The 1827 Log Courthouse107 W. Kansas Avenue, for many years the only Courthouse between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. This building was constructed by slave Samuel Shepherd and its sturdy walnut timbers served for a time as the courtroom by Administrative Judge Harry Truman before he became President of the United States. The courthouse is closed November-March for the winter.There is no phone at the courthouse, but information is available by calling Tourism at 816-325-7111 or toll free at 800-748-7323.

The 1859 Jail – 217 N. Main, which operated as the county jail from pre-Civil War time through 1910. The jail was also built by noted slaves who were master stonemasons. The 2 foot thick limestone walls housed famous guerillas such as William Clark Quantrill of Quantrill’s Raiders, Southern sympathizers during the Civil War and famous outlaws like Frank James, brother of Jesse James, and a leader of the James Gang. For more information, phone 816-252-1892.
Woodlawn Cemetery701 W. Noland Road, which is the final resting place of many prominent black citizens of Independence.

The National Frontier Trails Museum – 318 W. Pacific, which, in addition to major displays about the westward trails, mountain men and trappers, houses an exhibit of interest. Entitled: “I Remain Your Affectionate Wife,” the exhibit spotlights seven original letters to a free black man who followed the California trail. The Gold Rush captured the imagination of the entire nation. Thousand of enterprising people filled with hopes and dreams of wealth migrated to California to “strike it rich.” Among these emigrants was David Brown, an African-American who settled in California. Left behind in Ohio was his wife, Rachel Brown. In these extraordinary letters, she describes her life without her man, her loneliness, and her hopes for a future life with David. Sadly, David and Rachel were never re-united. Admission is $6.00 per person. For more information phone 816-325-7575.

The Truman Presidential Museum and Library – 500 U.S. 24 Highway, offers a glimpse into modern black history in a permanent exhibit where the desegregation of the armed forces is explored. One of the interactive “decision theaters” also includes a segment which explains Truman’s actions in pursuing desegregation, an act which was highly controversial at the time. Museum admission is $7 adults, $5 seniors, $3 youth, under 6 free. For more information phone 816-268-8200.

Excerpt from “The Gentle Genius” by Peggy Robbins

February 4, 2008

About George Washington Carver: A Tour of His Life
taken from “The Gentle Genius,” an article by Peggy Robbins

Born out of slavery and reared in Reconstruction, this humble man emerged to become a great benefactor to his people and his section.
George Washington Carver was born into slavery during the Civil War, in the midst of bloody guerrilla warfare in
Missouri . A tiny, sickly baby, he was soon orphaned, and his very survival beyond infancy was against the laws of nature.
That he, a Negro, became the first and greatest chemurgist, almost single-handedly revolutionized Southern agriculture, and received world acclaim for his contributions to agricultural chemistry was against all accepted patterns. But, seen from today’s distance, possibly the most amazing facet of the life of this gentle genius is the manner in which he overcame enormous prejudices and poverty in his struggle from nameless black boy to George Washington Carver, B.S., M.S., D.Sc., Ph.D., Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, and Director of Research and Experiment at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama — all without a trace of bitterness, with total indifference to personal fortune, and thought only to make the world, and America in particular, a better place for all mankind.
George Washington Carver did not know the exact date of his birth, but he thought it was in January, 1864 (some evidence indicates July, 1861, but not conclusively). He knew it was sometime before slavery was abolished in
Missouri , which occurred in January, 1865. (The Emancipation Proclamation freed only those slaves whose masters were “in rebellion against the United States ,” which was not the case in Missouri , where slaves were finally freed by state action.)
George grew up on the farmlands of
Missouri , reared by his mother until her seizure by a band of raiders; and then by Moses and Susan Carver , his mother’s former owners, who had a homestead near Diamond Grove. Because the frail little boy was not required to help with the heavy farm chores, he had many free daylight hours in which to do exactly as he chose, and he chose to explore the wonders of nature. He talked to the wildflowers, asking why some of them required sunlight and some didn’t, and how roots that looked exactly alike produced different-colored blossoms, and, he said many years later, the flowers answered him as best they could. He investigated insects, tree bark, leaves, ferns, seeds, and the like and made all of them his precious playthings. He tended the roses, sweet peas, and geraniums around the Carver house, and they flourished so strikingly a visitor asked him what she might do to make her flowers prettier. “Love them” the boy answered.
Word spread around Diamond Grove that “Carver’s George ” had a magic way with growing things, and people began calling him the Plant Doctor. He made house calls, either prescribing remedies for ailing plants or taking them to his secret garden in the woods where he tenderly nursed them. His “magic” with growing things was largely the result of his patient testing of different combinations of sand, loam and clay as potting soil for various plants, his experimentation with different amounts of sunlight and water, and his tracking down of damaging insects and the like. When the Carver’s finest apple tree began withering, George crawled along its limbs until he found some on which colonies of codling moths had taken up residence. “Saw off those branches,” he told Moses Carver , “and the tree will get well.” And it did.
Continue reading about George Washington Carver’s live by visiting the George Washington Carver National Monument Website.

Black Missourians Who Achieved Success Despite Obstacles

January 21, 2008

Black Missourians achieve fame in their fields. Among them were Clarence Gregg, known for his machine gun and smoke-consuming devices, John McClennand for sparktimers, oil pumps, and carburetors; and Robert H. Pennington for his railroad signals. Read more

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