January 27, 2013
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In August of 2010, I was taking a swing through Kansas to visit National Parks and collect stamps for my National Parks Passport. I had just finished a final visit to Hastings to examine our fields and had spent the night in Stockton, Kansas. My first destination was Nicodemus, roughly twenty miles to the west.
The Nicodemus National Historic Site is a model to how much anyone can get when they care deeply about something. Nicodemus is an outpost town, almost a ghost town on US Highway 24. It’s 60 miles north of I-70, and three hours from Manhattan, the closest city over 100,000. There’s a retirement home, a couple of churches, and a few places where some people may or may not live. And there’s the national historic site.
Nicodemus is a national historic site because it is the first African American settlement west of the Mississippi founded during the reconstruction period. Basically what happened was several black families moved out to a place where they thought the railroad would be built through, but the railroad was built further south. A lot of families left the community, but a small number stayed, and the community now has a parade every year at the end of July to celebrate their heritage. The displays are set up in a community theater/multipurpose building, and take a person less than an hour to go through, video included. After I left, I wondered why our debt-ridden government was subsidizing a small community historical society. (Probably because it was hidden in the middle of nowhere.) I wish they would have had more on the African Americans who moved west after the Civil War and took up farming and ranching. It’s a very underrepresented part of our country’s history.
But at the same time, I had another thought: good for the people who got their community recognized. They worked hard to get their community recognized, and they achieved that goal. It took years of going to Washington and lobbying, but they got some recognition because they cared and were persistent. They even got on national news programs. I wish I could borrow that work ethic. And their ancestors did do something remarkable by moving out to the prairie, far from their homes. That is pretty cool.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
Busiest street for miles.