The West, 1850-1900 • Homestead Act
Objective: Produce a diary entry that explains what life was like for Exodusters.
- Who were the Exodusters? How were their experiences different than those of white settlers?
- What challenges and opportunities did the various groups of people face during westward expansion?
Notes on Implementation:
- To extend the activity, have students draw parallels between the Exodusters' experiences and population groups that are emigrating today.
Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in The West Topic Center within the American History database.
Exodusters were some 20,000 African Americans who migrated to Kansas during 1879–1881. Coming from such Southern states as Mississippi, Louisiana, and primarily Tennessee, they migrated with the hope of escaping the racial discrimination they experienced in the post-Civil War South.
In this activity, you will create a diary entry explaining the journey of an Exoduster. To complete this activity, read the Exoduster article and use the Apply section to help you create your diary entry.
- Read and annotate the article according to Exodusters experiences.
- Create an Exoduster person - give them a name, age, gender, and role.
- For example: Sally Thomson, 7 years old, daughter to Roy Thomson (farmer).
- To create your diary entry, start with a relevant date and include the following information:
- What was the journey to Kansas like?
- What motivated them to leave their original home?
- What hardships, challenges, and opportunities were encountered?
- What was life like once they arrived in their new home?
- Opportunities have been extended to certain groups of Americans while denied to other groups
- Immigrants' decisions to leave their homeland are based on push and pull factors
Possible Answers for Activity:
What was the journey to Kansas like?
The journey was costly and for many it was not possible without financial aid. The Edgefield Real Estate and Homestead Association (EREHA), founded by Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, a former slave, and Columbus M. Johnson, a black minister from Nashville, began to hold meetings open to blacks and whites, explaining the importance raising enough money for those interested in moving. In 1879, the EREHA raised enough money to allow black homesteaders to move from Tennessee to southern Kansas. Once settled, they incorporated a town they called Singleton Colony near the town of Dunlap in Morris County, Kansas. Approximately 2,400 settlers moved to Singleton Colony, and most of them lived in tents and other makeshift housing.
What motivated them to leave their original home?
Benjamin "Pap" Singleton testified before the U.S. Senate in 1880. He told of the poor conditions that led to the migration to Kansas and the success of the black colonies in Kansas. He also believed that equality would only be achieved once all blacks were removed from Tennessee, and that once whites were forced to live without blacks they would realize the importance blacks played in the area.
What hardships, challenges, and opportunities were encountered?
In addition to raising the funds for the journey, there were concerns of being overcharged or denied land from white sellers. White settlers emphasized they did not want so many blacks moving to Kansas, and the Republican Kansas government never officially welcomed them to the state.
What was life like once they arrived in their new home?
In spite of the hardships Exodusters encountered, many enjoyed new opportunities of landownership and freedom from discrimination and oppression. The Colored Citizen, a black publication based in Kansas, reported on the families who had moved to Kansas and described their positive experiences. As more and more African Americans came to settle in Kansas, word spread back to their original homelands telling their friends and family about the opportunities in Kansas.
"Homestead Act." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2042971?cid=257. Accessed 15 Oct. 2019.