What's going to be a hundred years from now ain't much account to us.... The whites has the lands and the sense, an' the blacks has nothin' but their freedom, an' it's jest like a dream to them.
When the last Federal troops left the South in 1877 and Reconstruction gave way to renewed racial oppression, a former slave named Benjamin “Pap” Singleton began urging blacks to form their own independent communities in the West. Those who followed his advice called themselves “Exodusters,” because they believed the West would prove their promised land.
seemed like an ideal place for people who were disillusioned with the
black codes that had been passed in the South, the meanness of the Ku
Klux Klan, the meanness of the sharecroppers who really weren't sharing
the way they had agreed, and these are the people who paid five dollars,
five bucks to Pap Singleton to come up the river to a new life in Kansas.”
West has always been seen as a place of opportunity. And this was certainly
as true for people of African descent as for anybody else. Singleton and
other leaders weren't necessarily doing it for purely altruistic reasons.
Like a lot of great westerners they were speculators in land and hoped
to make their fortunes. But they did have a vision of a place where people
of color could breathe free..."
Soon these early Exodusters’ hopeful letters home were being read aloud in black churches across the South, and in the spring of 1879, word spread that the Federal government had set all of Kansas aside for former slaves. The rumor was false, but it sparked a genuine Exodus that brought more than 15,000 African Americans into Kansas within the next year.
When I landed on the soil [of Kansas] I looked on the ground and I says this is free ground. Then I looked on the heavens and I says them is free and beautiful heavens. Then I looked within my heart and I says to myself, I wonder why I was never free before?
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