Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

1-1-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in History

Department

Arch Dalrymple III Department of History

First Advisor

Anne S. Twitty

Second Advisor

Elizabeth A. Payne

Third Advisor

Ted Ownby

Relational Format

dissertation/thesis

Abstract

Black migrants transformed Kansas in the 1860s and 1870s. This thesis focuses on Franklin County, Kansas, as an unit of analysis that is demographically and geographically representative of the black migrant experience in the state between 1860 and 1885. This work demonstrates that black migrants gained a secure economic footing in the county by helping to develop prairie into productive farms. Their agricultural labors turned grassland into fertile fields, and their crop yields aided in attracting agriculturally-related industries to the region. As successful farmers who accumulated wealth and property, black migrants created a social space for themselves in Kansas. They did so by building churches, founding mutual aid societies, holding public celebrations, and pushing for civil rights in the educational system. Though they comprised only about 5 percent of the population in 1880, black migrants nonetheless had a large impact on the economic and social arrangements in Franklin County. The achievements of these migrants offers an important corrective to and extension of the historiography of black migration to Kansas, which has primarily focused on the Exoduster migration in 1879 and 1880, when thousands of former slaves from Louisiana and Mississippi made their way to the state. In contrast to the Exoduster migration, which has been identified as a collectivist movement that exhibited a proto-black nationalism, earlier black migrants arrived individually and in smaller numbers. They sought, and achieved, integration into a predominately white society and helped reconfigure Kansas through active engagement in the agrarian economy and grassroots social organization. Earlier migrants also principally came from different regions of the South than did the Exodusters, and, as illustrated by this thesis, they achieved much more success as farmers because of the agricultural skills and techniques they had learned as slaves in the Upper South. The economic stability that farming lent these earlier migrants allowed them to build strong communities with active leadership. While many former slaves in parts of the South labored as semi-free sharecroppers, black migrants in the Midwest controlled their labor, accumulated property, and achieved a substantial measure of both success and respectability as agrarian citizens. As farmers in Kansas, they escaped the specter of slavery and found promise--and promise fulfilled--on the prairie.

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