The “Exodusters” 1880


Map Code: Ax02494

In the late 1870s America was in the grip of a savage and protracted depression, and, through the Compromise of 1877, southern Democrats were able to exploit a disputed Presidential election to extract a number of concessions, ending Reconstruction and occupation by Northern troops and securing the power to reverse the civil rights gained by southern blacks since Emancipation. Terrorized by White Supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and effectively excluding from owning property or voting by the discriminatory Black Codes, many resolved that migration was the only means of escaping the oppression they were experiencing. A conference for black delegates from across the South was held in New Orleans in 1875 resulting in the formation of a “Colonization Council” to facilitate and oversee the emigration movement. The favoured destination for most was Kansas, which having fought its own civil war to secure entry to the Union as a Free State was protective of the rights of black immigrants. In the first wave of migration (1879–80), the so-called “Great Exodus” some 20,000 Exodusters are estimated to have reached Kansas, mainly from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Over the following decade thousands more arrived from Kentucky and Tennessee. The new arrivals had a rude awakening. Federal support was non-existent, local officials were overwhelmed by the scale of the influx, and poor white locals were often hostile because of the competition for jobs.

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