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Exodusters was a name given to African Americans who migrated from states along the Mississippi River to Kansas in the late nineteenth century, as part of the Exoduster Movement or Exodus of 1879.[1] It was the first general migration of blacks following the Civil War.[2] It was first organized by Benjamin Singleton.


To escape the Ku Klux Klan, the White League and the Jim Crow laws which continued to make them second-class citizens after Reconstruction,[3] as many as forty thousand Exodusters left the South to settle in Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado.[4] In the 1880s, blacks bought more than 20,000 acres (81 km2) of land in Kansas, and several of the settlements made during this time (e.g. Nicodemus, Kansas, which was founded in 1877) still exist today.[4]

This sudden wave of migration came as a great surprise to many white Americans.[5] Many blacks left the South with the belief that they were receiving free passage to Kansas, only to be stranded in St. Louis, Missouri. Black churches in St. Louis, together with Eastern philanthropists, formed the Colored Relief Board and the Kansas Freedmen's Aid Society to help those stranded in St. Louis to reach Kansas.[3]

Yellow fever[edit]

At the time of the Exodus to Kansas, yellow fever ravaged many river towns along the way (in Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana for example).[citation needed] Because many of the black migrants who stopped over in these towns—coming by steamboat, train, or horseback—were poverty-stricken, it was assumed by those town and city officials that the Exodusters were a cause. This caused great alarm in such cities as St. Louis, which imposed unnecessary quarantine measures to discourage future migrants.[citation needed]


The Exodus was not universally praised by African Americans; indeed, Frederick Douglass was a critic of the movement.[6] It was not that Douglass disagreed with the Exodusters in principle, but he felt that the movement was ill-timed and poorly organized.[7]

Further migration[edit]

Of note, however, western migration of African-Americans was not limited to the Exoduster period, and places like Quindaro, Kansas thrived for some period before, during, and after the Exoduster movement.[citation needed] Similarly, in following years (although not part of the original Exoduster movement of the 19th century) in the early 20th century black migrations to the American West and Southwest—generally known as the Old West—would continue, and several additional all-black towns would be established, especially in Indian Territory, which was to become the current state of Oklahoma.[citation needed]

Exodusters in fiction[edit]

  • Gabriel's Story, by David Anthony Durham.
  • Paradise, by Toni Morrison.
  • Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World, by Mildred Pitts Walker.
  • Why the Dark Man Cries, by Connie Fredricks


  1. ^ Van Deusen, John G. (1936). The Journal of Negro History. Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, Inc. p. 111. 
  2. ^ Johnson, Daniel Milo (1981). Black Migration in America: A Social Demographic History. Duke University Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-8223-0449-X. 
  3. ^ a b Gates, Henry Louis (1999). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Basic Civitas Books. p. 722. ISBN 0-465-00071-1. 
  4. ^ a b "Slavery in America Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  5. ^ Calhoun, Charles William (2003). The Human Tradition in America: 1865 to the Present. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 13. ISBN 0-8420-5129-5. 
  6. ^ Romero, Patricia W. (1968). I Too Am America: Documents from 1619 to the Present. Publishers Agency. p. 150. ISBN 0-87781-206-3. 
  7. ^ Sernett, Milton C. (1997). Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration. Duke University Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-8223-1993-4. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Katz, William (1987). The Black West. Seattle: Open Hand Publishing.
  • Moore, Shirley; Taylor, Quintard (2003). African American Women Confront the West, 1600-2000. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Painter, Nell Irvin (1992). Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Quintard, Taylor (1998). In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Ravage, John W. (1997). Black Pioneers. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
  • Savage, W. Sherman (1976). Blacks in the West. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Woods, Randall B. (1998). African Americans on the Western Frontier. Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado.
  • Woodson, Carter G. (1969). A Century of Negro Migration. New York: Russell and Russell.