February is Black History Month, and Kansas has connections to the Civil War and Civil Rights that also tie in with some of our state’s trails.
In the 1850s and early 1860s, Kansas Territory was in a series of skirmishes with neighboring Missouri. The battles were so intense, they earned the nickname Bleeding Kansas or Bloody Kansas. The focus of these fights was, primarily, slavery. A few months before the Civil War officially began (some say the first shots of the Civil War were at what is now Black Jack Battlefield), Kansas entered the Union as a free state. You can walk along trails through the historic Black Jack Battlefield – featured as a top history trail in our Kansas Trail Guide.
Nicodemus Visitor’s Center. Photo by Mark Conard
Kansas was the “promised land” for newly freed slaves, and the town of Nicodemus was created in 1877 as a refuge. It was the first black community west of the Mississippi. While the town’s population fell after the railroad didn’t make it a stop, the community still survives. You can take a self-guided tour of the National Historic Site where some of the original buildings still stand. From the National Park Service:
The land on which Nicodemus and other black communities stood in Kansas was not the most advantageous for agriculture, and natural drought cycles frustrated efforts to raise crops. Even so, in the decades following the Civil War, this part of the West offered African Americans a chance at a life usually unobtainable in much of the South. The courage and spirit that motivated African Americans to leave their homes and move to the Midwest after the Civil War to places like Nicodemus also helped propel them toward equality of opportunity in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas roughly a century later.
The small town is less than a 15-minute drive from Webster State Park. The Coyote Trail in the park feature signs and interpretive information that can help you learn more about the flora and fauna of the area.
Brown v Board of Education
With Brown v Board of Education, racially segregated public schools became officially determined as unconstitutional. It was clearly a complicated time for race relations, as the Board of Education was pro-segregation, and a group of Topeka parents advocating for their children had to take the issue to the United States Supreme Court. You can visit the Brown v Board of Education site at 1515 SE Monroe Street, Topeka, KS, 66612. This national historic site is free to visit, and it is in the location of the former all black Monroe school. Inside is a series of exhibits on the history of racism, segregation, education, and justice in the state and the country. And it’s the start of the Landon Nature Trail, a 38-mile rail trail that will connect the Shunga Trail in Topeka to the 117-mile Flint Hills Nature Trail.