Black Family and Kansas History Converge at Nicodemus ReunionBreaking News
tags: African American history, Kansas
Patricia E. Weems Gaston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the Lacy C. Haynes Professor at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Nicodemus has been calling my name for as long as I can remember.
Maybe it was the piece that my University of Kansas classmate wrote more than 40 years ago about the first Black settlement west of the Mississippi. Maybe a ride on the highways and byways of western Kansas would help me better appreciate the diversity of my home state. Maybe it was my hunger for history, whetted during myriad chats with my father while cooped up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Or maybe I couldn’t imagine not talking about the past, despite recent efforts to stymie the study of history in schools. Isn’t our future built on the foundations of the past?
The road trip was a go when another classmate wanted to attend the town’s annual homecoming to see if there was any appetite for resuming a mobile health clinic that her late internist sister ran for years.
We joined in Nicodemus’ celebration — its 144th homecoming — in late July on an uncharacteristically cool morning. It was a family reunion in every sense, and I felt one with the crowd lining Main Street for the late morning parade.
This town, which was settled in 1877 by 300 pioneers from Kentucky in search of freedom, now has fewer than 25 residents. But you wouldn’t have known it as hundreds of descendants from across the country returned to their ancestral home.
The Buffalo Soldiers in full regalia marched to the cheers of a grateful and proud crowd. We talked with families, some of them decked out in blue and green or purple and gold. The sense of family was palpable, whether they were clumped together watching the parade, trying to snag a piece of candy thrown from participants for one of their little ones or bounding into the visitor’s center in Township Hall in search of a souvenir to mark the day’s events.
While my people are not descendants, the Weemses have a tie that binds us to Nicodemus. My late grandfather Robert R. Weems and his friends used to hunt pheasant here during the late 1940s and early 1950s.