Why Did Most African American Exodusters Migrate West?

Exodusters were black Americans, many former slaves, who left the South and migrated to western states after the Civil War in an effort to escape racism and economic oppression. Their aim was to set up independent communities as a sort of promised land. Most Exodusters settled in Kansas.

The Exoduster Movement started in 1877, after federal troops left southern states following the Civil War. Without this government oversight, racial tensions were renewed. Blacks faced intimidation, discrimination and violence, as well as limited economic prospects. In many places, blacks were barred from owning land and forced to pay higher prices for goods. Black leaders of the day encouraged the now-free populace to pack up and head west, specifically into Kansas, which prided itself on its fair treatment of people and the equal opportunity it afforded them. The exodus was aided by false rumors that the federal government set aside the entire state of Kansas for former slaves.

Estimates show that as many as 40,000 African-Americans settled in Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma. Exodusters who moved into urban areas tended to fair better than others by finding domestic or trade positions. In Kansas, the only farmlands available were agriculturally challenging, which left many Exodusters in dire straits.