EXODUS OF 1879
EXODUS OF 1879. Beginning around 1875 a group of black Texas freedmen determined to move to Kansas, where a homestead act offered free land to settlers willing to meet occupancy and improvement qualifications. Between 1875 and 1880 Kansas became the "promised land" and "Kansas fever" spread, as black Texans left the Democratic South. The heaviest migration from Texas occurred in 1879–80. In 1879 African Americans from Washington, Burleson, Grimes, Nacogdoches, Walker, and Waller counties, tired of such harsh realities as share-cropping and limited political and economic influence under the Black Codes, boarded the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad or traveled by wagon to Parsons, Kansas. So many arrived in Kansas that year that Kansans called them the "Texodusters." Their number can only be estimated, but it is known that around 1,000 left Texas in November of 1879 and 3,000 to 4,000 by March 1880. As many as 12,000 are estimated to have made the journey.
Before 1879 those leaving North Texas, only about 300 miles from Kansas, found the trip relatively easy. Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, a former Tennessee slave, promoted the migration, but as he inspired travelers, unscrupulous men began selling them bogus railway tickets and fictitious travel amenities. Richard Allen urged a planned, gradual movement out of the state. A convention held in Houston in 1879 to discuss leaving the state warned against any hasty move and against swindlers at both ends of the journey. As a result, later travelers enjoyed a greater measure of success in their new home. Although hardships abounded in Kansas, few Texodusters returned home. Most remained in Kansas and by 1900 found themselves improved economically and politically.
The exodus caused hardship for white Texas landowners. In some regions only a sparse labor force remained to work fields. In Washington County white farmers tried to retain black workers by offering not only the traditional one-year rentals on farms at five dollars an acre, but three-year terms at an annual reduction to three dollars an acre. Because these new contracts benefited workers choosing to remain, the exodus was generally beneficial for Texas blacks.
Robert G. Athearn, In Search of Canaan: Black Migration to Kansas, 1879–80 (Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1978). Nell Irvin Painter, Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction (New York: Knopf, 1976).