Kansas Black History
When the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, many assumed that Nebraska would be a free state while Kansas would be a slave state, thus preserving the balance. Unlike the earlier Missouri Compromise, which admitted Maine and Missouri, the Kansas-Nebraska Act provided for the settlers to decide. Abolitionists, many from Massachusetts, saw the opportunity to influence that decision by simply moving here. In a period known as Bloody Kansas, these Abolitionists and pro-slavery Missourians used terrorist tactics on each other to discourage population by the other group. On January 29, 1861, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Kansas entered the Union as a free state. The Abolitionists had won. It is no surprise that, following the Civil War, some Blacks would see Kansas as a less hostile environment than other areas open to settlement.
After the Civil War, given the limited oppotunities for Blacks, it is no surprise that many of them chose to remain in the Army as it set out to protect frontier settlers and trade routes from the Indians. The Indians respected these Black soldiers and called them buffalo soldiers. Many of the buffalo soldiers were stationed at Fort Larned. The fort is the best preserved fort from that era and is now operated by the National Park Service. If you can spare a day before or after the Micheaux Festival, you would do well to visit Fort Larned, a mere 30 miles southwest of Great Bend. Companies of the 10th Cavalry (i.e., buffalo soldiers) were also stationed just east of Great Bend at Fort Zarah.
On the frontier there was land free for the homesteading. Some landless ex-slaves saw an opportunity to own their own farmland this way and chose Kansas largely because of the state's association with abolitionism. Those making this migration were known as exodusters. An exoduster community called Nicodemus is located about 120 miles northwest of Great Bend. The site was recently acquired by the National Park Service and is operated as a satellite of Fort Larned National Historic Site, 110 miles to the south.
While there's little left to visit but a sign and a monument, there's a farm just 80 miles west of Great Bend that was homesteaded by one of the most famous figures in American Black history, George Washington Carver. Before getting more education, Carver tried his hand at the difficult task of farming on the High Plains of western Kansas.
It was a Board of Education in Kansas (the Topeka school board) that was the unsuccessful defendant named in the lawsuit that ended school segregation, Brown v. Board of Education. Again, the National Park Service is working to preserve Black history in Kansas.
Questions, comments, contributions? Contact Don Shorock