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Exodusters

Exodusters

You might think that the end of the Civil War and ratification of the 13th Amendment might mean that life would quickly change for the better for formerly enslaved people in the United States. This was not necessarily true. Freed African Americans struggled to provide for themselves and their families. Violence toward the African-American community was widely prevalent. Families felt the need to migrate somewhere safer with more opportunities. Many African-Americans headed west, aided by policies like the original Homestead Act and the subsequent Southern Homestead Act. A significant number of African-Americans began heading west to states like Kansas. This migration became known as the "Great Exodus," and the people in it became known as Exodusters.

Exodusters, African american family, StudySmarterFig. 1: Exodusters Fleeing the South.

Exoduster

It refers to African-American migrants leaving the South in favor of states like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

Did you know?

The name "Exoduster" is inspired by the biblical Exodus.

Exoduster Movement

Who were the Exodusters? What were they trying to escape? The name Exodusters refers to the formerly enslaved people who left the southern part of the United States to migrate to states in the Great Plains to find safety and freedom as they attempted to escape the harsh conditions of the South. Are you wondering why the Exodusters moved to the Great Plains? Read ahead to learn more about the Exoduster movement!

Exodusters and Westward Expansion

Exodusters, Expansion and history, StudySmarterFig. 2: Advertisement for Nicodemus.

Homestead Act of 1862

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed a variety of people to file a claim on a parcel of land in the home of settling new, Western lands. One group of people that opportunity was open to was freed African-Americans. The Homestead Act contributed to western expansion by propelling future farmers onto parcels of land.

Southern Homestead Act of 1866

The Southern Homestead Act was an extension of the Homestead Act of 1862. It was passed to reduce the unfair effects of slavery by helping formerly enslaved people gain access to their land. By 1868, they were able to claim up to 160 acres.

The Southern Homestead Act was flawed in several ways.

  1. Formerly enslaved people were unable to afford the application fees.
  2. Southern whites discouraged sharing information about the homesteading program to keep formerly enslaved people as sharecroppers on white land.
  3. The actual land was inadequate–a lot of the land being utilized by the program was located in forests or swamps.

Exoduster Migration to Kansas

Black Americans who looked to move from the South often headed toward Kansas. Kansas had been the home of abolitionist John Brown. Kansas was a free state, and it seemed like an ideal place where all were genuinely able to be free American citizens. While Kansas was suitable because it was never part of the slave-holding South, it was not as far as California or Oregon. This meant it was a more accessible and cheaper place to migrate to. Kansas is a logical choice because The Homestead Act increased African-American access to land in the Great Plains.

This unorganized, mass migration began in the earlier 1870s, but 1879-1880 is seen as the height of the exodus.

Benjamin Singleton had escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad and lived in Canada before settling in Detroit. He later returned to his native Tennesse, where he built cabinets and coffins as a carpenter. Singleton saw the violence toward and exploitation of formerly enslaved people. To rectify that, he formed the Tennessee Real Estate and Homestead Organization to manage others in his community to migrate and settle in Kansas.

Exodus of 1879

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, over 20,000 African Americans left places like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. They headed west to Kansas, Oklahoma, and other areas in the Great Plains. These people were known as the Exodusters. Some were organized migrants, like those aided by Benjamin Singleton. Others struck out on their own.

The migration peaked in 1879. Over 6,000 people migrated to Kansas in a span of just a few short months.

The number of migrants slowed in the latter part of the 1880s before reversing course in the early 1900s.

Consequences of the Exoduster Movement

The population distribution pertains to the most important policies of any country. In this case, the demographic and geographical aspects of the program made it a particularly complex issue. Let's review some of its consequences.

Impact on the Exodusters

The Homestead Act glamorized the available land in the Great Plains. The land was challenging to farm under the best conditions and resources. The number of African American migrants to the area slowed considerably as time passed.

Accomplishments of the Exodusters

The Exodusters and their exodus demonstrated their enthusiasm for power over their lives and freedom of movement. They rejected the violence and white supremacy they were subjected to in the South and moved their families to places with better opportunities.

This exodus also allowed African American communities to settle outside of the South.

Exodusters, Nicodemus Blues Baseball Team, StudySmarterFig. 3: Nicodemus BLues Baseball Team

Nicodemus is a small town on the plains of northwestern Kansas founded by newly freed African Americans in the later 1870s. The town is significant as it was the first black community established west of the Mississippi. Nicodemus provided a space for formerly enslaved people to claim farmland and begin working to support their families in a safer place. Those who attempted to start over in the community built schools, churches, and homes. The town eventually had a post office and baseball team.

Nicodemus is still a community today. Nicodemus has been designated as a national historic site and is part of the National Park System.

Exodusters, Nicodeums Township Hall, StudySmarterFig. 4: Nicodemus Township Hall.

Exodusters Summary

The Exoduster Movement began in the 1870s as formerly enslaved people began leaving the South, heading west towards Kansas, Oklahoma, and other parts of the Great Plains. 1879 was the height of the Exoduster movement. African-Americans were encouraged by activists like Benjamin Singleton and policies like the Homestead Act.

The Homestead Act and Southern Homestead Act gave formerly enslaved people the opportunity to claim land for farming. Both plans were flawed, and agriculture in the areas where the land was granted proved difficult. However, people still migrated to the regions where African-American communities flourished.

Exodusters took command over their own lives and brandished their freedom of movement. They moved to separate themselves from the violence and racism prevalent in the South after the Civil War.

Exodusters - Key takeaways

  • Exodusters were African-American migrants who left the South to farm in the Great Plains.
  • Exodusters were attempting to escape violence and racism in the South.
  • Despite the difficulties created by their farming attempts, black communities flourished.
  • The Exoduster movement occurred in the 1870s and 1880s, with the most migration occurring in 1879.

References

  1. Fig. 1: Exodusters Fleeing the South.Photo by the NAtional Park Service. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Exodusters_Fleeing_The_South_(7222898378).jpgLicensed by CC-BY-2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

Frequently Asked Questions about Exodusters

African-American migrants leaving the South 

The Homestead Act increased African-American access to land in the Great Plains. Specifically, Kansas was appealing as it was a free state but not as far away as California or Oregon. 

They were trying to escape the poverty and violence of the south. 

The Exodusters were former slaves migrating to states in the Great Plains for safety, freedom, and economic opportunity. 

The Exodusters established robust African-American communities, like Nicodemus. Nicodemus was the first black community established west of the Mississippi. It had churches, schools, and businesses. It even had a baseball team!  

Final Exodusters Quiz

Question

Who were the Exodusters? 

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Answer

African-Americans migrating to the Great Plains to farm. 

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Question

What does it mean to migrate? 

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Answer

To move from one region to another

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Question

What did the Homestead Act and Southern Homestead Act do? 

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Answer

Gave freed slaves access to farmland.

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Question

Why did the Exodusters want to migrate? 

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Answer

The farmland in the Great Plains was the best land in the United States. 

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Question

True or false: The term Great Exodus describes African-Americans migrating to Kansas and other places in the Great Plains. 

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Answer

True 

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Question

When was the peak of the Great Exodus

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Answer

1879

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Question

Which of the following were accomplishments of the Exodusters? 

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Answer

They demonstrated their enthusiasm for power over their own lives and freedom of movement.

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Question

True or false: Activists like "Pap" Singleton helped freed slaves move out of the south. 

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Answer

True 

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Question

What inspired the name "Exoduster"?

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Answer

The biblical book of Exodus.

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Question

What factor slowed African Americans' migration to the Great Plains?

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Answer

Harsh agricultural conditions.

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