Post-Reconstruction Politics and Racial Justice in Western Kansas
Race and Culture in the American West Series
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
284 Pages | 6 x 9 | 20 b&w illus.
Pushed out of the South as Reconstruction ended and as white landowners, employers, and “Redeemer” governments sought to reestablish the constraints of slavery, thousands of African Americans migrated west in search of better opportunities. As the first well-known all-black community on the plains, Nicodemus, Kansas, became a national exemplar of black self-improvement. But Nicodemus also embodied many of the problems facing African Americans during this time. Diverging philosophies within the community, Charlotte Hinger argues, foretold the differences that continue to divide black politicians and intellectuals today.
At the time Nicodemus was founded, politicians underestimated the power of African American voters. But three of the town’s black homesteaders—Abram Thompson Hall, Jr., Edward Preston McCabe, and John W. Niles—exerted extraordinary influence over county, state, and national politics. Hinger examines their divergent strategies for leading their community and for relating to white people, which reflected emerging black worldviews across the United States as African Americans grappled with the responsibilities accompanying their new freedom. Hall supported racial uplift, McCabe insisted on achieving equality through politics and legislation, and Niles advocated reparations for slavery. Hall and McCabe, both northerners, had distinguished educations, while Niles, a former slave, was a gifted orator. Their differing approaches to creating a new civilization on the prairie, seeking justice for blacks, and improving the situation of Nicodemus citizens roiled Kansas politics, already in turmoil over temperance and woman’s suffrage.
Nicodemus was a microcosm of all the issues facing black Americans in the late nineteenth century, and Hall, McCabe, and Niles are archetypes for powerful philosophies that have persisted into the twenty-first century. This study of their ideas and the ways they shaped Nicodemus offers a novel perspective on the most famous post–Civil War African American community in the West.
“Rich in detail and carefully researched, Charlotte Hinger’s fine study illuminates the growth, development, and maturation of Nicodemus, Kansas, the most successful black town established during the ‘Kansas Exodus.’ Nicodemus also reveals the paradoxical race relations that African Americans experienced, the voices of ordinary people, the role that American Indians played in assisting the earliest black settlers, and their quest for full equality and civil rights. Historians of western and African American history will welcome and embrace this book.”—Albert S. Broussard, author of Expectations of Equality: A History of Black Westerners
"In this unprecedented full-length scholarly study of Nicodemus, Charlotte Hinger shows that the experiences of obtaining land, recruiting residents, building communities, protecting economic and political interests, grappling with the moral headache of helping refugees—all on the harsh, lonely prairies of western Kansas—drew African Americans into the same divergent patterns of racial uplift, social justice, and radicalism with which they would contend in the century and a half that followed."—James N. Leiker, author of Racial Borders: Black Soldiers along the Rio Grande