Jacob Friefeld on Black Homesteaders
Discover the hardships and successes of six Black homesteader colonies in the Great Plains in the latest article from the Homesteading Project from Jacob Friefeld, Mikal Eckstrom, and Rick Edwards. More at: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/714208
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[00:00:00.370]In the late 19th to early 20th centuries,
[00:00:03.230]black Americans came out of the south
[00:00:05.660]and settled in the Great Plains by the thousands
[00:00:07.780]claiming homesteads, meaning they got free land
[00:00:10.380]if they stayed on that land for five years
[00:00:12.560]and made improvements on the land.
[00:00:14.400]A lot of these black homesteaders settled in
[00:00:16.440]intentional colonies or communities.
[00:00:20.760]We've studied six of these communities.
[00:00:24.560]Sully County, South Dakota, Empire, Wyoming,
[00:00:27.600]DeWitty, Nebraska, Nicodemus, Kansas,
[00:00:31.820]Blackdom, New Mexico, and Deerfield, Colorado.
[00:00:37.510]These were the most important colonies
[00:00:39.310]in their states, respectively.
[00:00:40.770]Nicodemus is arguably one of the most important
[00:00:44.470]black history sites in the Great Plains,
[00:00:46.420]let alone one of the most important
[00:00:47.630]black homesteader sites.
[00:00:49.420]A lot of times, when you think about homesteading
[00:00:51.510]and homesteaders, you think these people are sort of
[00:00:54.020]drudges working from sunup to sundown,
[00:00:57.230]living dusty lives, but that's not what we found
[00:01:00.160]studying these six communities.
[00:01:01.220]We found people who had joyful cultural relationships
[00:01:06.190]and civic lives.
[00:01:07.640]The church often was the center of civic lives,
[00:01:10.300]but these communities also formed baseball teams,
[00:01:14.670]they had Emancipation Day celebrations,
[00:01:17.820]Nicodemus's Emancipation Day celebration
[00:01:19.990]still happens every July, they invite descendants back
[00:01:23.620]and celebrate coming home to Nicodemus.
[00:01:26.260]The Speese and Shores family in DeWitty
[00:01:28.550]formed the Jubilee Singers, they also played
[00:01:31.390]the piano and violin and traveled around
[00:01:34.440]to neighboring towns and performed classical music.
[00:01:39.370]Education was also very important in these communities,
[00:01:42.870]perhaps the most important thing.
[00:01:44.030]If the first building that went up was the church,
[00:01:46.300]the second was the school.
[00:01:48.540]In Nicodemus, before the school was even built,
[00:01:51.168]they dug, created a dugout, which is literally
[00:01:55.140]a dwelling in the side of a hill
[00:01:56.510]that's just dug out to hold classes in there.
[00:01:59.300]So education was extremely important.
[00:02:01.640]That's because along with landowning, education,
[00:02:05.040]these are two things that were denied
[00:02:07.648]black Americans in slavery.
[00:02:10.230]Property ownership and educating their young.
[00:02:12.950]So in many ways, these homesteads were staging grounds,
[00:02:16.380]transitional spaces, that allowed the homesteaders
[00:02:19.820]to educate the future generations so they could
[00:02:22.300]make a living outside the family farm later.
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