If you’re interested in African American history, you may have heard of the Exodusters. These were Southern Blacks who migrated to Kansas in the late 1800s in search of a better life. But did you know that they were also called “Kansas Freedmen”?
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The reasons why southern blacks migrated to Kansas
In the late 1800s, many African Americans left the South in a mass movement later called the “Great Migration.” Settling mostly in northern industrial cities, these migrants hoped to escape the racism, sexism, and poverty of the rural South. Yet by the early twentieth century, some African Americans became disillusioned with conditions in the North and started moving to Kansas—one of several Midwestern states that came to be known as part of the “Great Second Migration.”
Between 1915 and 1930, nearly 100,000 black Southerners settled in Kansas. They were attracted by the state’s reputation as a progressive haven for African Americans, as well as by economic opportunities made possible by the growth of railroad and steel industries in urban areas such as Wichita and Kansas City. The newcomers were also seeking to escape violence and discrimination in the South. In 1919 alone, an upsurge in “race riots” across the United States resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries—most of them suffered by black people.
The Great Migration had a profound impact on both Kansas and the nation. The arrival of so many new African American residents helped transform Kansas from a predominantly white state into a racially diverse one. Today, blacks make up nearly 7 percent of Kansas’s population—a legacy of the Great Migration that continues to shape both Kansas and America.
The difficulties they faced when they arrived
When the first blacks moved to Kansas in the mid-1870s, they encountered a state with a constitutional provision barring them from voting, serving on juries, or holding public office. Blacks were also effectively segregated in public accommodations. In addition, employers often refused to hire blacks, and those who did find work were usually paid lower wages than whites. Despite these difficulties, some blacks managed to become successful farmers and business owners.
The way in which they were able to build successful lives in Kansas
African Americans who migrated to Kansas in the late 1800s and early 1900s found they were able to build successful lives in a number of ways. They were able to use their labor to create new agricultural opportunities, to start businesses that catered to the needs of their communities, and to establish churches and schools. In many ways, these African Americans were able to create their own version of the American Dream in Kansas.