Hidden History: The Story Behind Nicodemus, Kansas

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NICODEMUS, Kan.- In celebration of Black History Month in February, we’re exploring different moments and movements in African-American history.

A little Kansas town with a big story is telling a rarely-told tale about survival after slavery.

Nicodemus, Kansas is the only remaining western town established by freed slaves. 

“Slavery produced in us a spirit of determination,” says Angela Bates, the Director of Historical Society.

Freed slaves from Kentucky were solicited to move to Nicodemus, Kansas for a new start, but they arrived at harsh conditions.

“What you have is a situation where people are pretty much starving to death,” Bates says. “The Osage, as well as the Potawatomi, both claim that they’ve been here to Nicodemus.”

The native people helped the former slaves survive the harsh conditions of their first winter in Nicodemus. This new town, soon populated by 600 people, hit a high point.

They built their own schools, churches, stores and banks. The residents of Nicodemus used their skills learned during slavery and created a new life for themselves. 

The promise for the railroad never came, and depression hit the town hard. 

Today, there are only a few dozen residents.

“I am a sixth-generation descendant of one of the first families that came to Nicodemus,” says LueCreasea Home. “I come from the Williams line of the family.”

“I’m a Canon and Jones, which were descendant of the Sloughters and Dorsies,” says Shante’ Ryans.

Each of them says what brings people back to Nicodemus every year is the Emancipation Celebration.

“That’s been going on since 1877,” says Bates.

More than 140 years of freedom, an accomplishment that Bates says is worth celebrating.

“I think being a part of the families of Nicodemus, and knowing that our forefathers endured slavery, and then they came to the West and had the vision to help establish an all-black town and govern themselves,” Bates explains. “I mean, that’s something to be very, very proud of.”

Today, the population of the town is only about 50 people, but it welcomes crowds every July for its yearly Emancipation Celebration. 

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