Wild West

FROM THE GROUND UP

The greatest period of immigration in the nation’s history was arguably in the latter half of the 19th century. While many of the Europeans who flooded to the United States during those decades settled on the Eastern seaboard, others ventured farther west, consumed with the idea of owning land—something that had been almost impossible in their native countries. Not every westbound emigrant was a recent immigrant, of course. Black Americans, whose ancestors had been forced to North America during the colonial era, were also seeking new opportunities. After the Civil War some freed slaves stayed in the South through Reconstruction, and some went north to find work in such expanding industrial centers as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and New York. Still others believed their best chance at “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” lay west of the Mississippi River. They could not or would not remain in the regions where their ancestors had experienced such horrendous treatment.

Though freed slaves began migrating west in the decade following the war, the exodus didn’t really pick up until informal passage of the Compromise of 1877, which marked the end of Reconstruction and removed federal protection for blacks in the South. That year a group of former slaves migrated to Kansas and settled Nicodemus, the first all-black community west of the Mississippi. Two years later racial oppression and injustices by such white supremacist organizations as the Ku Klux Klan, as well as Democratic state and local governments across the South, triggered the Exodus of 1879. In that first westward mass migration of “Exodusters” (a reference to the biblical Exodus of the ancient Israelites) blacks migrated to not only Kansas but

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