Angela Bates comes to Wellington to speak about Nicodemus the first African-American Settlement in Kansas

first_imgNicodemus is located north of Hays and west of Salina.“It’s important to understand what women and mothers went through during slavery,” Bates said.Following the Emancipation, many slaves left their plantations to seek shelter and freedom, and many ended up in military camps. During the Civil War, Fort Campbell, Ky. recruited soldiers, and several African American men went there.“In Kentucky, there were no large plantations, mostly farms,” Bates said. “Only 5 percent of white people owned slaves there.”This was an ad that ran during the Reconstruction Era.The main crop grown in Kentucky was hemp, which was made into rope at rope factories, where many slaves worked.In Lexington, Ky., mixed blood women were provided for sale, and fetched a hefty price of $5,000-$6,000.Many original settlers of Nicodemus were from Kentucky, and they were very hard workers. Vice President Richard Johnson, who once served under Martin Van Buren, during the Civil War, did something unheard of, he married one of his slaves, and they had two daughters, and were very happy. Upon her death, he married another slave, divorced her and then married her sister. Johnson owned many large farms in Kentucky.“Johnson didn’t care what people thought of him and thought he was doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” Bates said.The slave experience was different in Kentucky than larger slave states. The dynamics between the master and slave were different. Masters maybe had only 20-40 slaves, and it was usually a family unit. In the Carolinas, for example, plantations were large, and a lot of the times, slaves never saw their masters.During slavery, children were raised by the older women in the family. Women in slavery had no choice in anything. The children were kept together until, at about age 12, they were considered old enough to work, and were sold into slavery.“The slavery system was meant to have control of the slaves,” Bates said. “They were pushed to be kept ignorant and to divide their identities.”There was a division between slave children who grew up in the house versus those who grew up in the fields. The slave children who grew up in the house were exposed to the culture of white people, and thus learned things, although learning was not allowed for them at the time.Women in slavery had no control of when they would have children or who the fathers of their children would be. They also had no choice in naming their children, and they were always given the last name of the master, who often was the father of the children.“We can’t be held responsible for what our forefathers did,” Bates said. “I can’t carry a burden, and I don’t want to be angry for what happened in the past.”During the time of slavery, women often did what was called “mercy killings” and would kill their child not long after it was born, as they didn’t want their children growing up as slaves. If women were allowed to name their children, they would name girls after their sisters, and boys after their brothers.Games children in slavery played included marbles, jump rope, making dolls out of corn shocks, and boogey man, which is similar to hide and seek. They also role played, such as holding church services, baptisms, using a switch, and even, re-creating slaves sold on the block.After the Emancipation, African American males were allowed into the military, and called Buffalo Soldiers.During this time, they were trying to open the interior land of America for migration and settling. After the Homestead Act, many people began settling in Kansas.“You could purchase 160 acres, name the town after yourself, and get people to settle there,” Bates said.In 1877, W.R. Hill, a land developer from Indiana, and Rev. W.H. Smith, an African American man, formed the Nicodemus Town Company and planned the town site. Smith became the president and treasurer. The two founders aggressively promoted the town to African American refugees seeking freedom. They traveled to Kentucky and told former slaves they could move to Kansas, own land and be free. The town was named after a legendary figure who came to America on a slave ship, and later purchased his freedom.“The geographic mindset of the slaves was very tiny,” Bates said. “It took extreme courage to move to an unknown place.”The first settler of Nicodemus was Rev. Simon P. Roundtree, arriving June 18, 1877. Zack T. Fletcher and wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, daughter of Rev. Smith, arrived in July, and Fletcher was named secretary of the company. Smith, Roundtree and the Fletchers made claims to their property and built dugout homes temporarily along the prairie.In the spring of 1877, a train was traveling to Ellis, Kan., about 30 miles away, giving many former slaves the opportunity to come to Nicodemus, and a lot of them left Kentucky. From Ellis, families walked to Nicodemus, seeking freedom, and a new life.Henry Williams, the great uncle of Bates, was the first baby born in Nicodemus, on the free soils of Kansas. His mother, Emma Johnson Williams, was 8 1/2 months pregnant when she arrived in Ellis by train, and had a two day walk ahead of her. She arrived with her parents and siblings, and her husband joined her later. Williams represents many children of his generation reared by parents who were former slaves.“Fear and ignorance ruled the south,” Bates said. “People were scared of an uproar, slaves were scared, they were now free, but unsure what to do. A lot of people stayed on the plantations, because they didn’t know where to go.”Fear ruled slaves, as well as masters. Masters lost their slave labor. Slaves and white people were both unsure of what do to, so most of them share cropped.“They lost their slave labor, it was really about economics,” Bates said.From an African American female perspective, it was the first time mothers were giving birth to free children, and rearing children to be free. Many young African American women coming into Nicodemus began having children, and for the first time, were given a choice of the father of their children, as well as their names.“They raised them without fears, they were a new generation of kids born free,” Bates said.During the last 80 years, any family who stayed in Nicodemus was connected in some way.“It’s very unique, everyone is related, as many married into families,” Bates said.The last people who settled in Nicodemus came in 1879. By then, the population had reached about 700. Today, there are 19 people who reside in the now ghost town. It was the first township in Graham County.By 1880, with high population, the town had a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores, all within twelve square miles of cultivated land. When the town began, Gov. John St. John made a speech welcoming the new arrivals.By 1887, Nicodemus had more churches, stores, a literary society, an ice cream parlor, a lawyer, another newspaper, a baseball team, a benefit society and a band.In March of 1887, hopes were high in the community when the railroad talked of extending from Stockton to Nicodemus, and voters of the Township approved the issuance of $16,000 in bonds to attract the Union Pacific Railroad to the community. The town and railroad could not agree on financial compensation and the railroad withdrew its offer. In 1888, the railroad extended six miles away south of the Solomon River.“The railroad was the cause of economic demise in Nicodemus,” Bates said.Store owners disassembled their buildings and moved them to the Union Pacific Railroad Camp, which became Bogue, Kan., only five miles away. A long gradual decline occurred after businesses left.Many people who have left Nicodemus have gone on to do things nationally. There are six NFL players who have roots in Nicodemus, and three who have received awards from the African American Museum, one being Bates.“Men out of slavery had the raw tenacity to accomplish things,” Bates said. “Nicodemus represents an all black town where people created an all black statement of how to control their own destiny.”In 2012, Bates decided that instead of a newsletter, the Nicodemus Historical Society needed to make a photo book so that people know what photos are in their collection, which exceeds 600.Every year, the town celebrates with the Emancipation Celebration, and many former residents bring their families back. This year marks the 20th anniversary since Nicodemus was put on the National Parks Association’s list.Bates is responsible for Nicodemus being on the National Parks register. She went to Bob Dole and Pat Roberts to declare Nicodemus a National Park.“I wanted to make sure their story was always told and part of American history,” Bates said. “It’s not a big deal, it just needed to be done.”Bates has written children’s books about the history of Nicodemus, and has even written curriculum for schools on the Buffalo Soldiers.Although she was raised in Pasadena, Calif., having roots in Nicodemus, and hearing stories when she visited as a child, inspired her to tell the story of the history of Nicodemus.Follow us on Twitter. Close Forgot password? Please put in your email: Send me my password! Close message Login This blog post All blog posts Subscribe to this blog post’s comments through… RSS Feed Subscribe via email Subscribe Subscribe to this blog’s comments through… RSS Feed Subscribe via email Subscribe Follow the discussion Comments (2) Logging you in… Close Login to IntenseDebate Or create an account Username or Email: Password: Forgot login? 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Tweet this comment Cancel Submit Comment Subscribe to None Replies All new comments Angela Bates was in Wellington Saturday to speak to Sumner County Historical Society of the community of Amber Schmitz, Sumner Newscow — Following the Emancipation Proclamation, several newly independent African American former slaves settled in Nicodemus, Kans., where they were promised freedom.Nicodemus was the first all African American settlement in Kansas.Angela Bates, executive director of the Nicodemus Historical Society, made a presentation entitled “Children of the Promised Land,” for the Sumner County Historical Society meeting at the Wellington Public Library on Saturday afternoon. She travels the nation presenting educational programs covering Nicodemus, Exodusters, African American towns in the west, Buffalo Soldiers and African American women in the west.Bates began genealogical research of her family, and the history of Nicodemus, where her family descendants were some of the original settlers.last_img

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