Negro Exodus.Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia for 1879 says: "The attention of the country during the past year has been attracted to the movements among the colored population, chiefly in the states bordering on the Mississippi. There was no appearance of organization or system among these persons. Their irregularity and absence of preparation seemed to indicate spontaneousness and earnestness. Bands moved from the plantations to the Mississippi river, and thence to St. Louis and other cities, with no defined purpose, except to reach some one of the new states west of the Mississippi, where they expected to enjoy a new Canaan. Their movements received the name of the 'Exodus.'"
Various theories have been advanced to account for this unusual course on the part of the negroes. Some contended that the exodus was due chiefly to the loss of political power by the blacks at the end of the reconstruction period. Others insisted the negroes were instigated by unscrupulous politicians in some of the Northern states with the hope of securing their support in close elections. Another theory was that land speculators in the new states west of the Missippi[sic] circulated alluring reports among the negroes in the lower Mississippi valley, and that the promise of "Forty acres and a mule" was too tempting for the negro to withstand. But the chief cause of the discontent among the negroes, and the one which led them to emigrate, was probably stated by Gov. Stone of Mississippi in his message to the legislature of that state in 1880, when he said: "A partial failure of the cotton crop in portions of the state, and the unrenumerative prices received for it, created a feeling of discontent among plantation laborers, which, together with other extraneous influences, caused some to abandon their crops in the spring to seek homes in the West."
One influence was at work, however, which has not been considered by any of the theorists, and that was the influence wielded by negroes who had found homes in the North and West in their letters to friends and relatives in the South. One of these negroes was Benjamin Singleton, commonly called "Pap" Singleton, who located in Morris county, Kan., shortly after the war, and who began the agitation for immigration as early as 1869. Singleton was president of a committee to invite negroes to come to "Sunny Kansas." He was from Tennessee, visited that state in his efforts to induce the negroes there to emigrate, and in other ways was so active that he has been designated as the "Father of the Exodus." It is said that his favorite argument ran about as follows: "Hyar you all is potterin' around in politics, tryin' to git into offices that you aint fit for, and you can't see that these white tramps from the North is simply usin' you for to line their pockets, and when they git through with you they'll drop you, and the rebels will come into power, and then whar'll you be?"
It is not strange that Kansasthe state where the great conflict began that ended in the liberation of the slavesshould be the goal of many of the "exodusters." The Kansas Monthly for April, 1879, refers to the movement as a "stampede of the colored people of the Southern states northward, and especially to the State of Kansas," and gives an account of a meeting held at Lawrence, which adopted a series of resolutions, one of which was as follows: "In view of the fact that large numbers of these immigrants are arriving in Kansas in a destitute condition, and need our aid and direction to enable them to become self-sustaining, we believe that a state organization for this purpose should be effected at the earliest possible moment, and this philanthropic work in the hands of an efficient and responsible state executive committee." (See Freedmen's Relief Association.)
At various points in the South conventions of colored men were held to discuss the exodus. One of these met at New Orleans on April 17, 1879, and of the 200 delegates about one-third were colored preachers. It was a turbulent meeting, but finally adopted a resolution "that it is the sense of this convention that the colored people of the South should migrate," and closed with an appeal to the people for material aid. Another convention, at Vicksburg, Miss., May 5, 1879, asserted the right of the colored people to emigrate where they pleased, but urged the negroes who were thinking of migrating "to proceed in their movements as reasonable human beings, providing in advance by economy the means for transportation and settlement, sustaining their reputation for honesty and fair-dealing by preserving intact, until completion, contracts for labor-leasing which have already been made." The convention also deplored the circulation of false reports to the effects that lands, mules and money were awaiting the emigrants in Kansas and elsewhere "without labor and without price." Two days after the Vicksburg convention a large number of colored men assembled at Nashville, Tenn., with a number of negroes from the Northern states present. The resolutions of this convention were extremely radical, demanding social and political equality for the colored people; opposing separate schools for the races; recommending the several state legislatures to enact laws providing for compulsory education; and asking Congress to make an appropriation of $500,000 to defray the expenses of the negroes of the South "to those states and territories where they can enjoy all rights which are guaranteed by the laws and constitution of the United States."
By the close of the year 1879, several thousand colored people had found their way into Kansas. On April 1, 1880, Henry King, then postmaster at Topeka, wrote to Scribner's Magazine: "There are, at this writing, from 15,000 to 20,000 colored people in Kansas who have settled there during the last twelve months30 per cent. of them from Mississippi; 20 per cent. from Texas; 15 per cent. from Tennessee; 10 per cent. from Louisiana; 5 per cent. each from Alabama and Georgia, and the remainder from the other Southern states. Of this number about one-third are supplied with teams and farming tools, and may he expected to become self-sustaining in another year. . . The area of land bought or entered by the freedmen during their first year in Kansas is about 20,000 acres, of which they have plowed and fitted for grain-growing 3,000 acres. They have built some 300 cabins and dugouts, counting those which yet lack roof and floors; and in the way of personal property, their accummulations,[sic] outside of what has been given to them, will aggregate perhaps $30,000. It is within bounds to say that their total gains for the year, the surplus proceeds of their efforts, amount to $40,000, or about $2.25 per capita."
This is what had been accomplished by one-third of the immigrants; of the other two-thirds about half of them were congregated in the towns and the other half had found employment as farm hands in various parts of the state, but only about one out of every twenty had become the owners of small homesteads.
In 1880 the senate of the United States appointed a committee of five to investigate the causes of the exodus and report. That committee was composed of Daniel W. Voorhees of Indiana, Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina and George H. Pendleton of Ohio, Democrats; and William Windom of Minnesota and Henry W. Blair of New Hampshire, Republicans. Testimony enough was taken to make a volume of nearly 1,700 printed pages. The majority report held to the idea that the exodus had been brought about for the purpose of colonizing the negroes in some of the Northern states for political purposes, though the evidence would hardly bear out that theory. An effort was made to show that Gov. St. John had been instrumental in inducing so many of the negroes to locate in Kansas, but one of the colored witnesses, formerly of Texas, produced a letter from the governor, in which he said: "If your people are desirous of coming to Kansas, I advise you to come in your private conveyances and bring your household goods and plows. . . But I want to impress this one fact on your people who are coming to Kansas, that you must not expect anything, as we hold out no inducements to whites or blacks."
The exodus continued into 1880, and the failure of crops in South Carolina in 1881 caused a number of negroes to leave the state in the fall of that year, a few of them coming to Kansas. Another migration occurred in 1886, but it was insignificant when compared to the great hegira of 1879.
The Kansas Historical Society has the scrap-books of Horatio G. Rust and Benjamin Singleton, which contain much data relating to the exodus.Pages 339-341 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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