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In Search of Eden: Black Utopias in the West

After Reconstruction, most African Americans remained in the South and worked as sharecroppers or tenant farmers. But the limited economic possibilities, as well as escalating racial repression that accompanied the end of Reconstruction and the rise of a “redeemed” South, led some to move West. Kansas was the most common destination for southern black “Exodusters” as they were called, and more than 26,000 African-Americans immigrated to Kansas during the l870s. The Exodusters hoped to create quasi-utopian colonies entirely free from white control. The best known of these black settlements was Nicodemus, named for an African-born slave who was said to have prophesied the black Exodus. In this 1877 circular, town founders expounded on the enticements of Nicodemus with the hope of attracting “colored citizens” as new settlers. By 1880, Nicodemus had 700 residents. The colony enjoyed its greatest prosperity in the mid-1880s, but after that it suffered from a lack of rain and good rail connections. Still, the population continued to increase gradually into the beginning of the next century.

To the Colored Citizens of the United States.

Nicodemus, Graham Co., Kan., July 2d. 1877.

We, the Nicodemus Town Company of Graham County, Kan., are now in possession of our lands and the Town Site of Nicodemus, which is beautifully located on the N. W. quarter of Section 1, Town 8, Range 21, in Graham Co., Kansas, in the great Solomon Valley, 240 miles west of Topeka, and we are proud to say it is the finest country we ever saw. The soil is of rich, black, sandy loam. The country is rather rolling, and looks most pleasing to the human eye. The south fork of the Solomon river flows through Graham County, nearly directly east and west and has an abundance of excellent water, while there are numerous springs of living water abounding throughout the Valley. There is an abundance of fine Magnesian stone for building purposes, which is much easier handled than the rough sand or hard stone. There is also some timber; plenty for fire use, while we have no fear but what we will find plenty of coal.

Now is your time to secure your home on Government Land in the Great Solomon Valley of Western Kansas.

Remember, we have secured the service of W. R. Hill, a man of energy and ability, to locate our Colony.

Not quite 90 days ago we secured our charter for locating the town site of Nicodemus. We then became an organized body, with only three dollars in the treasury and twelve members, but under the careful management of our officers, we have now nearly 300 good and reliable members, with several members permanently located on their claims—with plenty of provisions for the colony—while we are daily receiving letters from all parts of the country from parties desiring to locate in the great Solomon Valley of Western Kansas.

For Maps, Circulars, and Passenger rates, address our General Manager, W. R. HILL, North Topeka, Kansas, until August 1st, 1877, then at Hill City, Graham Co., via Trego.

The name of our post-office will be Nicodemus, and Mr. Z. T. Fletcher will be our “Nasby.”

Rev. S. P. ROUNDTREE, Secretary.


Nicodemus was a slave of African birth,

And was bought for a bag full of gold

He was reckoned a part of the salt of the earth,

But he died years ago, very old.

Nicodemus was a prophet, at least he was wise,

For he told of the battles to come:

How we trembled with fear, when he rolled up his eyes

And we heeded the shake of his thumb.


Good time coming, good time coming,

Long, long time on the way

Run and tell Elija to hurry up Pomp

To meet us under the cottonwood tree

In the Great Solomon Valley

At the first break of day.

Source: Singleton Scrapbook, unpaginated circulars. Reprinted in William Katz, The Black West (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1973), 168.