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"I am anxious to reach your state ...
because of the sacredness of her soil washed by the blood of humanitarians
for the cause of freedom."
-- S.L. Johnson, black Louisianan in
a letter to Kansas Governor John St John, 1879
is the only remaining western community established by African
Americans after the
Having an important role in
American History, the town symbolizes the pioneering spirit of
these ex-slaves who fled the war-torn South in search of "real”
freedom and a chance to restart their lives. This "ghost
town ” has since gained
recognition as a National Historic Site.
In the late 1870’s
the black population of the South was extremely restless, as the
Reconstruction following the
Civil War failed to bring the long
awaited freedom, equality and prosperity. Instead, they were racially oppressed, poverty-stricken,
debt-ridden and starving.
At this time, along
came a white man by the name of W.R. Hill, who described a "Promise
to black families in the backwoods of
Tennessee. Hill told of a sparsely settled territory with abundant wild
game, wild horses that could be tamed, and an opportunity to own land
through the homesteading process in
town site of
was planned in 1877 by W.R. Hill, a land developer from Indiana, and
Reverend W.H. Smith, a black man, forming the
Town Company. Reverend
Smith became the President of the Town Company and Hill, the
treasurer. Named for a
legendary figure that came to America on a slave ship and later
purchased his freedom, the two founders aggressively promoted the town
to the black refugees of the Deep South. The Reverend Simon P. Roundtree was the first settler, arriving
on June 18, 1877.
Zack T. Fletcher and his wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher (the
daughter of Reverend W.H. Smith) arrived in July and Fletcher was
named the secretary of the Town Company.
Smith, Roundtree, and the Fletchers made claims to their
property and built temporary homes in dugouts along the prairie.
Town Company produced numerous circulars to promote the town, inviting
"Colored People of the United States” to come and settle in the "Great
Solomon Valley.” The Reverend
Roundtree became actively involved in the promotion, and worked with a man
by the name of
"Pap" Singleton , a black carpenter from Nashville,
who traveled all over distributing the circulars.
Singleton, who could not read or write, distributed so many
circulars that he was sometimes called the "Moses of the Colored Exodus."
The Blacks who decided to emigrate soon acquired the name "Exodusters "