Hidden History: Nicodemus, Kansas, a town established by freed slaves

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A little Kansas town with big history tells a rarely told story about survival after slavery. 

Ashonti Ford visited Nicodemus, Kansas, the only remaining western town established by freed slaved, to retrace the steps of history.

Angela Bates, Director of Nicodemus Historical Society, tells us, “Slavery produced in us… a spirit of determination”. 

Determination and tenacity, to build and sustain an entire town from the ground up. 

Freed slaves from Kentucky were solicited to move to Nicodemus, Kansas, for a new start.  But, they arrived at harsh conditions.  

Bates says, “What you have is a situation where people are pretty much starving to death.”

And, multiple claims on the land. 

Bates says, “The Osage, as well as the Potawatomi both, claim that they’ve been here to Nicodemus”.

The native people helped the former slaves survive their first winter and the harsh conditions. At its height, the town was populated by 600 people. 

They built their own schools, churches, stores, and banks.  The residents of Nicodemus used their skills learned during slavery and created a new life for themselves. 

But, a promised railroad never came, and the depression hit the town hard. 

Today, there are only a few dozen residents. The native people helped the former slaves survive their first winter and the harsh conditions.  At its height, the town was populated by 600 people.

Descendant LueCreasea Horne tells us, “I am a 6th generation descendant of one of the first families that came to Nicodemus. I come from the Williams line of the family.” 

Descendant Carla Bates Adams shows us a photo of her great grandfather, Neil Williams.

Descendant Shante’ Ryans’ tells us, “I’m a Canon and Jones, which were descendants of the Sloughters and Dorsies”.

Each year, since 1877, the Emancipation Celebration brings crowds back to Nicodemus to celebrate a shared history. 

Angela Bates says, “I think being a part of the families of Nicodemus and knowing that our forefathers endured slavery and then they came to the west and had the vision to help to establish an all-black town and govern themselves. I mean, that’s something to be very, very proud of”. 

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