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Nicodemus: A Kansas Town That Made Black History Copes With 2020

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tags: African American history, Kansas, Homestead Act, COVID-19



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Called the Emancipation Homecoming Celebration and observed on the last weekend in July, the event marks the exodus of roughly 300 freed slaves from Kentucky in 1877 to a new settlement on the Great Plains. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, each family could claim 160 acres to carve out a livelihood.

“Nicodemus is a story of freedom, of work ethic, ingenuity and a return to the soil. It’s steeped in self-government [and defines] what it means to be an entrepreneur, to establish yourself into a belief system, and where education is a bedrock,” says Enimini Ekong, a superintendent with the National Park Service, which manages the Nicodemus National Historic Site.

Because of Covid-19, the 142nd Emancipation Homecoming Celebration will take place exclusively online for the first time, says Robert Alexander, chairman of the event. Typical reunions attract between 400 and 800 people, and this year he hopes to draw 500 attendees and replicate some of the fun virtually, with historical presentations, video chats, a talent show, children’s activities and a “Family Feud”-style game.

“If everything works out, we’ll be able to connect to even more people than before” the pandemic, says Mr. Alexander, 64, a retired information-technology professional who lives in Wichita, Kan.

Kansas has never had a large Black population, which today stands at about 6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But in some ways, LueCreasea Horne, a sixth-generation descendant of the town’s founders, sees Nicodemus embodying the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. “We don’t expect anything extra. Just give us the same chance as everyone else,” she says.

At its peak, Nicodemus was home to about 600 residents and boasted a bank, stores, a livery stable, two newspapers, a school and churches. But failed efforts to attract the railroad in the late 1880s, as well as the Great Depression, contributed to its decline. Today, the population hovers around 25. What has kept Nicodemus alive are the thousands of descendants of the original settlers who return for Homecoming. A typical celebration features a historical re-enactment and includes a dance, vintage baseball game, fashion show, pancake feed, 5K race and parade. “It’s in our DNA,” Mr. Alexander says.

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Read entire article at Wall Street Journal

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