At the end of the Reconstruction era, federal protection was withdrawn for Southern African Americans’ civil and political liberties. In essence this was handing over power to the same forces that had held African Americans in slavery prior to the Civil War. Post-Reconstruction African Americans were subjected to disenfranchisement, organized violence, and limited economic opportunities. Consequently, many African Americans felt that their best chances for achieving economic and personal security lay in separating themselves from the economic and social conditions of the post-Reconstruction South. Some, like Robert Charles, even considered emigrating to Liberia (although few actually did so).
Leaders such as Isaiah Montgomery and Benjamin "Pap" Singleton offered people the chance to organize their own communities, own their land, and -- as Montgomery put it -- "run for Sheriff, not run from the Sheriff." Isaiah Montgomery founded the African American community of Mound Bayou, carved out of the inhospitable environment of the Mississippi Delta. Benjamin "Pap" Singleton encouraged thousands of African Americans to emigrate to Kansas, the land of the abolitionist John Brown.
While Frederick Douglass urged Southern blacks to stay engaged in the fight for their political and civil rights rather than withdraw into what he saw as political and economic isolation, for many African Americans these all-black communities gave them the opportunity to build lives for their families free from the violence and daily indignities of the Jim Crow South.
This unit introduces students to these all-black communities established as a response to the imposition of Jim Crow following Reconstruction.
- identify some of the motivations for the creation of separate black communities such as Mound Bayou and the Kansas settlements;
- understand the steps involved in building these movements;
- enhance understanding and draw conclusions from the study of primary documents;
- learn how the Kansas exodus and the settlement of Mound Bayou fit into the overall chronology of the Jim Crow years.
Four to six 45-minute class periods (portions may be assigned as homework)
Pap Singleton and the Exodus to Kansas:
This collection of documents from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University focuses on the exodus of blacks from the southern states in the period following reconstruction.
Benjamin Singleton's testimony before the U.S. Senate Select Committee gives some insight into the recruitment of colonists for the Kansas exodus.
This article from the National Urban League's magazine Opportunity, Journal of Negro Life describes the history and the present state (in 1935) of Nicodemus, Kansas, an African American town founded in 1877. An editorial note calls the article "a vivid picture of the fate of one group who sought economic isolation."
Nicodemus, Kansas: African-American Mosaic Exhibition (Library of Congress)
Western Migration and Homesteading: African-American Mosaic Exhibition (Library of Congress)
These Library of Congress Web pages includes maps and photographs of some of the houses and inhabitants of Nicodemus, Kansas and photographs and other images of the African American Exodus to Kansas.
Isaiah Montgomery and the Founding of Mound Bayou:
Booker T. Washington corresponded often with Isaiah Montgomery and visited Mound Bayou on a number of occasions. Washington's favorable article presents a good picture of the organization of the community of Mound Bayou.
Created by students of Dr. Amy Young, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southern Mississippi
1. Introduce the following statement to the class: "An oppressed group of people leaves their native land seeking refuge in an unfamiliar, far-away place, where they will be free to live as they see fit." Ask students to respond to the statement and describe what it means to them. Discuss their responses.
2. Discuss the following questions with the class:
- Give examples from history and literature of groups who fit the description in the quote. In each case, what was the source of oppression and where was the land where they sought refuge?
- How have similar descriptions been used to define the promise of America?
- How important is this statement to how we've come to view ourselves as a nation?
Learning Activity One
One or two 45-minute class periods
1. Tell students they are going to watch the video segment Pap Singleton: To Kansas!Distribute the Black Pioneers - Video Questions handoutto each student. Have students review the questions before you play the video and ask them to take careful notes while watching the segment.
2. Students can access the Century of Segregation Timeline on The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow website to situate this event in the chronology of the imposition of, and struggle against, Jim Crow.
3. After watching the video, discuss student responses to the questions. Let students know that they may not have enough information yet to fully answer these questions.
4. Tell students they will be watching a second video, Isaiah Montgomery Founds Mound Bayou. Again, encourage students to read through the questions on the handout before viewing and to take careful notes as they watch the video.
5. Have students access the Century of Segregation Timeline on The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow website to determine what other events were occurring at the time of the establishment of Mound Bayou. Have them write down any relationships they see between those events and the founding of Mound Bayou.
6. Once students have taken careful notes, they should break into small groups to discuss the questions.
Learning Activity Two
One or two 45 -minute class periods
1. Primary documents will help to enrich your students' understanding of the Kansas emigration movement and the establishment of all-black communities such as Mound Bayou. Divide the class into groups of four or five students and assign each group a selection of documents from the above list of bookmarked online resources. Some of these documents are longer than others, so try to make sure that the materials are evenly assigned among the groups. Here is one suggestion for dividing these documents into 6 groups:
2. Give students 25 - 30 minutes to read and discuss their documents within their group. Students should read their primary documents to see how they might inform their understanding of some of the questions raised in Activity One of this lesson. Have students take notes on what types of information they find that adds to their understanding of these segments and whether it differs from what they saw in the documentary. Students should consider the sources of these documents. Who is saying or writing this, and when?
3. With the entire class, revisit the sets of questions for each video segment covered during Activity One of this lesson. Ask the students if they have uncovered more information that sheds additional light on these questions. In presenting their information, students should supply the source of the information. Who said or wrote what the students are reporting, and when?
4. Have students summarize the research they've done on the Kansas emigration movement and the establishment of Mound Bayou.
- What did these movements share in common? How did they differ?
- What criticisms did Frederick Douglass and others have about these movements?
One 45-minute class period
Organize a classroom debate on the subject of separate black communities. Have students debate the following questions:
- Considering conditions in the South at the end of the nineteenth century, were separate black communities a good idea? Why or why not?
- Are separate communities still important? Are they necessary today? Are they generally a good idea or has their time come and gone?
- Are separate communities for any group a good idea? Why or why not?