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Fall 2004
A Publication of the St. Louis Public Library

Vol. 4  No. 3


The Exodusters

Exodusters is a term used to describe black Americans who went west after the Civil War in an effort to find a place where they could find free or cheap land and live in areas relatively free of racism and color prejudice. The term "Exodusters" is Biblical in origin (the Book of Exodus), referring to the flight of the Jews from Egypt to what they hoped would be the "Promised Land."

The Exoduster Movement was an offshoot of an earlier colonization movement that had argued that the way to settle the "slave problem" was to send all black Americans to colonies in Africa. One of the problems with colonization was that by the time of the Civil War, most black Americans had not been born in Africa but in the United States. Thus, they had no more knowledge or experience of the African continent than did the average white American.

Exodusters agreed with proponents of colonization that black Americans would never be able to fully assimilate into white society, but disagreed as to where black Americans could go to achieve assimilation. An initial westward colonization group called the Tennessee Real Estate and Homestead Association, which formed in the early 1870s, attempted to purchase land for colonization in that state. The group faced a dual problem of white landowners who opposed black settlement in the area and white land speculators who artificially inflated land prices.

Large-scale black settlements in Kansas began in 1874 on a 1,000-acre tract near Baxter Springs. Benjamin "Pap" Singleton led 300 black settlers to farm, raise livestock, and cultivate fruit trees. A more ambitious colony was founded near Dunlap, Kansas, on 7,500 acres of government land in 1878. Settlers bought 10-160 acres of land at $1.25 an acre. A high premium was placed on education, and soon there were four schools operating in the area.

The height of the Exoduster Movement came in 1879-1881 when thousands of black Americans moved to Kansas, fueled in part by a completely unfounded rumor that the federal government had set Kansas aside as a home for former slaves. Other black colony towns in Kansas were Quindaro, Morton City, Wabusee, Scuffle Town, the Bottoms, Votaw Colony, Hoggstown, and Rattlebone Hollow.

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