Black Communities in the Old West

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Black Communities in the Old West

Benjamin "Pap" Singleton - Black Communities in the Old West

Benjamin “Pap” Singleton
Founder – Exodusters Movement (1877)
Photo: U.S. PD by unknown (1892)
see: Wk. 07, 12/17/1900 –
Benjamin “Pap” Singleton

Black Communities in the Old West addresses the phenomena of the founding of the black pioneer towns in the West. By 1920, well over fifty towns had been settled in the United States by African Americans seeking to escape the hardships and racial injustice so prevalent while living in the South after the Civil War (1861-1865). Noted here are the three most prominent of the western communities (in some detail) and a short list of some others around the U.S. for reference.

Blackdom, NM – 1903

Founded by Frank and Ella Boyer under the requirements of the Homestead Act,* the first all-black settlement in New
, the Blackdom Townsite Company was incorporated in Chaves County New Mexico, on 15,000 acres (61 km2), about 18 miles south of Roswell. By 1908, the community had a weekly newspaper, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a Baptist church and 25 families with about 300 people.
However, 1916 to the early 1920’s, saw worms in the crops, alkali buildup in the soil, and the depletion of the natural wells of the Artesia aquifer, which provided most of the water for the farms. The settlers began drifting away and by 1921, even the Boyer’s home had been repossessed, forcing them away as well. Today Blackdom is remembered by a highway historical marker and local events. Photos: U.S. PD pre-1923, LH – Frank and Ella Boyer, RH – Blackdom Baptist Church.  {001}
see also:
*Wk. 20, 05/20/1862 – Homestead Act

Boley, OK – 1903

Boley, Creek Nation, Indian Territory, officially opened for settlement in 1903, incorporated in 1905 with the approval of the Fort Smith and Western Railroad management. The interracial group that founded Boley included John B. Boley, a white manager for the Fort Smith and Western Railroad, Lake Moore, a white attorney and Thomas M. Haynes, a black farmer and entrepreneur from Texas. Working with James Barnett, a Creek Freedman, they purchased the land of Barnett’s daughter Abigail, midway between Paden and Castle, an ideal location for a station stop. The town experienced rapid growth over the years as Southern migrants in search of better opportunities flocked to the city. There were no other black/negro towns nearby and Boley became a center of regional business. During the early part of the 20th century it boasted its own electric company and the first nationally chartered bank owned by blacks. There were numerous cotton gins and banks, schools both public and private, several fraternal clubs, and churches of every denomination. Boley had a railroad depot, a post office  and telephone company. The municipality had also successfully bid to host Oklahoma’s main black fraternal lodge, a black tuberculosis hospital and the State Training School for Negro Boys. By 1911, the town was the home of two colleges: Creek-Seminole College, and Methodist Episcopal College and it had over 4,000 residents.
In the early twentieth century, Boley, OK was the largest predominantly black town in the United States and one of the wealthiest black towns in the country. Photo: U.S. PD pre- 1923, Main Street, Boley, OK.  {001}

Nicodemus, KS – 1877

Nicodemus-KS-poster - Black Communities in the Old West

from 1877

Seven Kansans, six of whom were black: Ben Carr (vice president), W.R. Hill (treasurer), S.P. Roundtree (secretary), Jerry Allsap, William Edmunds, and Jeff Lenze. Hill established the Nicodemus Town Company, the only white member of the group, he was a land speculator who had traveled to the South to promote Nicodemus and recruit black people for the new colony. Their goal was to establish the first all-black settlement on the Great Plains. The location for the town, chosen by Hill, was along the northern bank of the Solomon River, an area suitable for developing farming. The town itself was located on a 160-acre plot of the 19,200 acres of the township.

Early promotional efforts were directed towards attracting people with enough money to develop the town. Smith and Hill mailed publications describing the resources and benefits of moving to the area to prospective migrants across the South. Residential lots cost $5 while commercial lots were $75. Additional fees were charged for establishing settlers on the land. Efforts succeeded in bringing groups of colonists from Eastern Kansas and Kentucky. Most of the group consisted of former slaves from Kentucky in search of a new livelihood. The population reached about 600 people in 1878. However, most of the people who settled in the town, subsequently moved on. Not enough of the $75 commercial lots were sold to keep the town growing. Years of poor harvests also contributed to declining population. By 1884, less than 50 people remained in the town. Later efforts to bring a railroad route through Nicodemus failed and most businesses moved away. The community survived mostly as a social center. In 1976, Nicodemus was named a National Historic Landmark.
One theory claims the town was named after the biblical figure Nicodemus. Another holds that the town was inspired by the legendary account of an African prince taken into slavery who later purchased his freedom.  Photo: U.S. PD 1885 – Nicodemus, KS.  {001}

Other Black Communities

Allensworth, CA – 1908
Image result for colonel allen allensworthThe first town in California established exclusively by African Americans, was founded by a group of men led by Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth. Born a slave in Louisville, Kentucky in 1842, Allensworth became the highest-ranking black officer in the U.S. Army when he retired in 1906. Allensworth died in 1914, and after his death, the town began to decline. Photo: U.S. PD pre-1906, Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth.  {001}
see also:
Wk. 37, 09/14/1914 – Allen AllensworthDied
Wk. 02, 01/08/1922 – Col. Charles Young

Eatonville, FL – 1887
Image result for zora neale hurstonThis was where Zora Neale Hurston grew up, was incorporated in 1887. That’s where she went to collect black folklore. Hurston wrote in “Of Mules and Men” that she could think of no better place to do so. Photo: U.S. PD? – Zora Neale Hurston.  {001}

Hobson City, AL – 1899
When the town incorporated on August 16, it was only the second municipality in the United States governed entirely by African Americans, the first being Eatonville, FL.

Mound Bayou, MS – 1887
Isaiah Montgomery - Black Communities in the Old WestFounded in 1887 by freedmen led by Isaiah Montgomery. The town, designed for the residents to have very little contact with whites, had a post office, churches, banks, schools and stores and was often cited by Booker T. Washington as a model of self-sufficiency. Photo: U.S. PD Isaiah Montgomery

became a premier haven for African Americans moving Westward from 1865-1920. By 1890, over 137,000 African American residents living in all black towns across Oklahoma…

Boley, Creek Nation, Indian Territory
article above

Image result for clearview oklahoma historyClearview, OK – 1903
Built along the tracks of the Fort Smith and Western Railroad in Okfuskee County, OK. By 1904 the town boasted a two-story hotel and a print shop. One of the thirteen surviving today. Photo: U.S. PD Oklahoma Historical Society {001}

DeWitty, NE – c. 1904

The longest lasting, most successful Black settlement in Nebraska. Settled by Black Canadian immigrants and former African American slaves. At a time when cities across the U.S. were erupting in race riots, the Black settlers of DeWitty and the white residents of nearby Brownlee peacefully coexisted and thrived together. Later renamed Audacious, disincorporated in 1936.  {001}

Greenwood,OK  – 1906
>W. Gurley - Black Communities in the Old WestA division near North Tulsa, was founded in 1906. According to records, it was created by O.W. Gurley, a wealthy black man who owned land in Arkansas. According to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. In 1889, Gurley traveled to Oklahoma to participate in the “Oklahoma Land Run.” Gurley purchased 40 acres, which were designated “only to be sold to colored,” according to records. The town, which gained fame as “Black Wall Street” was destroyed in 1921, after it was burned by angry white mobs. Photo: U.S. PD O. W. Gurley.  {001}

Langston, OK – c. 1890
Edward P. McCabe - Black Communities in the Old WestWhen President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation “stating that the public lands in the Oklahoma District were opened to settlers at noon on April 22,1889,” Edwin P. McCabe, an African American who served as the state auditor in Kansas for four years and as the state auditor in Oklahoma for ten years, decided to seize the moment of opportunity by purchasing 320 acres of land, where the town of Langston, Oklahoma was established in 1890. Named after John Mercer Langston (1829-1897), the first African American Congressman elected from Virginia in 1888.
McCabe set up the McCabe Town Company (1889) and sent agents into the South seeking to attract African Americans with new opportunities by settling in Langston. Mr. McCabe also set aside forty acres of land which provided for the Land Grant College called Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (1897). The University was later renamed Langston University in 1941. Photo: U.S. PD Edwin P. McCabe.  {001}

Rentiesville, OK – 1903
Founded in McIntosh County, OK, named for William Rentie, a local landowner. One of 50 all-black towns in Oklahoma and one of 13 that still survives. Photo: U.S. PD Rentiesville, OK school (1910)  {001}

Rentiesville, OK school (1910) - Black Communities in the Old West

Rentiesville, OK school (1910
Photo: U.S. PD


Many of the first African Americans in the Arizona Territory were soldiers posted to the forts which had been established in the wake of clashes with indigenous tribes. A few black men worked as cowboys on cattle ranches. The immigrant tide to the West after the Civil War also brought black miners, eager to cash in on the growing gold and silver boom.
1870 saw twenty-three Black men in Arizona Territory, and five women. Twenty years later (1890), the numbers had grown to 1,173 men to 184 women. Many of the women worked as cooks on military forts or did other domestic tasks, whether they were in the territory with their husbands or not. African Americans also began to move into growing cities such as Phoenix and Tucson.
PLAYERS – Timelines – Timelines A-L – Black History Timeline
Quotes Index – Woman QuotesCharlotte Green (first on the page)
Wk. 41, 10/14/1868 – Cathay Williams

For other related information in Old West Daily Reader
see also:
Wk. 20, 05/20/1862 – Homestead Act
References – Dictionary Civil War
References – Dictionary – Exoduster Movement
References – DictionaryFreedmen’s Bureau
References – DictionaryLoyal League
References – DictionaryReconstruction
References – DictionaryUnion League
References – DictionarySundown Town
PLAYERS – Timelines – Timelines A-L –Black History Timeline
Thoughts on the Historical use of the “N” Word

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