Please allow me to extend Black History Month by a week, to tell about this unique and special place, the town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Nicodemus is the “only remaining western town established by African Americans during the Reconstruction Period following the American Civil War.” (Per Wikipedia)
The National Park Service has a page telling the history of Nicodemus: https://www.nps.gov/articles/nicodemus.htm Here’s an excerpt from their page:
The small town of Nicodemus, Kansas sits quietly on the northwest Kansas plains. Founded by newly freed slaves in 1877, Nicodemus was a refuge from the Reconstruction-era South, a reflection of a mass black migration from the South to the Midwest after the Civil War. Nicodemus was the first black community west of the Mississippi River and is the only predominantly black community west of the Mississippi that remains a living community today. An all-black outpost on the frontier, this “unsettled” land offered a chance for black farmers and their families to start anew. Today, a few people and buildings remain from the original township, a testament to the resolve of the people of Nicodemus to build a new life on the prairie. Between the end of the Civil War and the 1880s, many courageous black settlers sought better lives, better land, and better opportunities in the heartland.
When the railroad was built, it didn’t pass through Nicodemus. The interstate highway system doesn’t pass through the town. The challenges getting to and from the town, and the Dust Bowl and other conditions in the region made it hard for the town and citizens to thrive. As the end of the 20th century approached, the town was down to just a handful of residents, and the buildings were badly deteriorating. There was concern that the town might literally disappear. The National Park Service brought it into their system. It’s now a National Historic Landmark and Site.
Nicodemus is a more thriving site now, with the NPS resources behind the ongoing restoration projects. They hold cultural events. Nicodemus has a great, active Facebook page, where they regularly post historical facts and photos of their town and related events and places. Here’s a post from today:
On my visit to Nicodemus several years ago, while I was speaking to the Park Ranger at the Visitor’s Center, a young adult black woman arrived, almost out of breath. She was attending a professional conference in Denver, and saw it as her chance to visit Nicodemus. She had rented a car and made the 5-hour two-lane highway drive to get there. I got emotional seeing her emotion; and I still get tears in my eyes remembering it. Like I said at the start, it’s a special place.
The town of Nicodemus was featured in two episodes of ‘Quick Draw’, a Hulu original comedy series set in Kansas. The filming of the series did not actually take place in Kansas unfortunately, but I still enjoyed the ‘Kansas feel’ to the series. The two Nicodemus episodes are probably my favorites of the series. I’m thrilled that they featured the town. Here’s a clip:
Here’s the series page on Hulu’s site. https://www.hulu.com/series/quick-draw-f15643e4-501e-44da-ac26-bbb3024bf9b1
Nicodemus on the web:
- Nicodemus website (NPS): https://www.nps.gov/nico/index.htm
- Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicodemus,_Kansas
- Nicodemus Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NicodemusNPS
Getting to Nicodemus (It’s not on the interstate, or near any metropolis.):
Below are driving directions from airports in the region (Denver, Wichita, Omaha, and Kansas City), and from the Brown vs. Board of Education site in Topeka. Note: The Visitor’s Center is currently closed for the Covid-19 pandemic.