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Museum - African American History

African American history sections of the Kansas Museum of History

Embrace the heritage of Kansas' African American citizens at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka.

You'll see:

The involvement of African Americans in Kansas history dates from the state's earliest days. In the 1850s the state was known as "Bleeding Kansas" because of the violent clashes between pro- and antislavery factions that took place on its soil.

The Civil War began just a few months after Kansas entered the Union as a free state in January 1861. Efforts to recruit Black soldiers to the Union cause began as early as the following year. The First Kansas Colored Infantry was the first African American regiment raised in the northern states, and the first to see action. Six flags from the First and Second Kansas Colored infantry--one of the largest collections in the nation--rotate on and off display at the museum.

Tintype of African American woman, ca. 1860.Following the war, thousands of African Americans left the South for Kansas in a great Exodus. Ex-slave Benjamin "Pap" Singleton alone recruited some 8,000 "Exodusters" to the state with promises of opportunity. Many stayed in the state's eastern cities, but others settled in the rural west. Today the entire town of Nicodemus is a national historic site, the only remaining western town founded by African Americans after the Civil War.

In the 20th century, Black Kansans have left indelible marks on American culture, including the writings of Langston Hughes, the photographs of Gordon Parks, the inventions of George Washington Carver, the jazz saxophone stylings of Charles "Bird" Parker and Coleman Hawkins, and the choral music of Eva Jesse.

"Kansas with her freedom and broad prairies, with the memories of John Brown and his heroic struggle, seems naturally the State to seek. There is a natural halo of liberty, and justice and right about its very name which gives . . . our people in their miserable condition the same longing and all-pervading desire to leave here and to go there as the magic name Canada gave in that time to the slave."
-- George T. Ruby, New Orleans Weekly Louisianian, April 26, 1879