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  • Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth (1842 - 1914)
    Allensworth (7 April 1842 – 14 September 1914), born into slavery, escaped and became a Union soldier; later he became a Baptist minister and educator, and was appointed as a chaplain in the United Sta...
  • Winnie Shankle (1814 - 1883)
    From One newspaper reporter headlined a story about the Shankleville community as "Shankleville's Past Has Love Story in It." He then said it had a mint of intriguing history and the most beautiful lov...
  • James Shankle (1811 - 1888)
    From Shankleville Historical Society The community of Shankleville in Newton County Texas was named after Jim and Winnie (Brush) Shankle. Jim and Winnie were the first African Americans to purchase the...

This project will be a master project for Black Towns, established in the U.S. and Canada in the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s. It will be a related project of Blacks of the Old West. Other related projects will be listed in the right hand navigation column. (Project photo: Mound Bayou, MS. first incorporated Black Town in U.S. Nov 17, 1887 | African American Registry).

African-American town promoters established at least eighty-eight, and perhaps as many as two hundred, black towns throughout the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Black towns, either mostly or completely African-American incorporated communities with autonomous black city governments and commercially oriented economies often serving a hinterland of black farmers, were created with clearly defined economic and political motives. The founders of towns such as Nicodemus, Kansas; Boley, Oklahoma; and Mound Bayou, Mississippi, like the entrepreneurs who created Chicago, Denver, and thousands of other municipalities across the nation, hoped their enterprises would be profitable and appealed to early settlers with the promise of rising real estate values. However, they added special enticements for African Americans: the ability to escape racial oppression, control their economic destinies, and prove black capacity for self-government.

The first all-black communities began in Upper Canada (Ontario) as an offshoot of the abolitionist movement. In 1829 the settlement of Wilberforce was created to resettle black refugees expelled from Cincinnati. Wilberforce, as well as most of the later Canadian settlements, such as Dawn and Elgin, were operated largely by white charities and were designed to give African Americans land and teach them usable skills. However, most of these efforts were poorly funded and managed, and none survived very long. The first black town in the United States was created in 1835, when "Free Frank" McWhorter, an ex-Kentucky slave, founded the short-lived community of New Philadelphia, Illinois. More black towns emerged in the first years after the Civil War. Texas led the way in the late 1860s, with the founding of Shankleville in 1867 and Kendleton in 1870. These communities, populated by exslaves from the surrounding countryside, arose from the desire of freedpeople to own land without interference.

The vast majority of black towns emerged in the West, however, following the end of Reconstruction. Like whites, blacks were lured by the promise of the West. African Americans, largely unable to secure land and economic opportunity in the ex-Confederate states, looked to the West, with its reserves of inexpensive land that could be accessed through the Homestead Act. Moreover for the African Americans who had briefly held political power in the Reconstruction-era South before being overwhelmed by conservative white regimes, the possibility of distinct black political autonomy was particularly attractive. Six representative communities—Nicodemus, Kansas; Langston City, Oklahoma; Boley, Indian Territory; Mound Bayou, Mississippi; Dearfield, Colorado; and Allensworth, California—all shared these characteristics and will be discussed in depth.

Nicodemus, Kansas, was the first predominantly black community that gained national attention. Nicodemus was founded by W. R. Hill, a white minister and land speculator, who during the mid-1870s joined three black Kansas residents—W. H. Smith, Simon P. Rountree, and Z. T. Fletcher—in planning an agricultural community in sparsely populated western Kansas. After naming Nicodemus after a legendary African slave prince who purchased his freedom, they soon recruited settlers from the South.

The first thirty colonists arrived from Kentucky in July 1877, followed by 150 from the same state in March 1878. Other newcomers arrived later in the year from Tennessee, Missouri, and Mississippi. By 1880, 258 blacks and 58 whites resided in the town and surrounding township. Both the townspeople and the farmers, who grew corn and wheat, helped Nicodemus emerge as a small, briefly thriving community. The first retail stores opened in 1879. Town founder and postmaster Z. T. Fletcher opened the St. Francis Hotel in 1885. Two white residents established the town's newspapers, the Nicodemus Western Cyclone in 1886 and the Nicodemus Enterprise one year later. By 1886 Nicodemus had three churches and a new schoolhouse.