The Exodusters were black immigrants who fled the American South and settled in Kansas during the 1870s. Although many African Americans migrated to Kansas in nominal numbers throughout the decade, the term "Exoduster" typically refers to members of the mass "Exodus of 1879." These migrants sought to escape oppression in their native states and become economically independent by building their own farms.
Although the Civil War amendments to the US Constitution freed and enfranchised African Americans, the governments of the southern states instituted many laws that kept blacks from fully exercising their citizen rights. Following the end of Reconstruction in 1877, conditions worsened for blacks. In addition to the oppressive Jim Crow laws, racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the White League used violence to coerce blacks into remaining subservient.
The major event that sparked the Exodus was the result of the election of 1878 in Louisiana. Anti-black Democrats took the governorship and many congressional seats. In response, over 6,000 African Americans from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi took off for Kansas where the Homestead Act allowed them to purchase cheap farmland.
The Exodusters faced many trials along the way, including yellow fever, lack of shelter and insufficient food supplies. However, the migrants persevered and formed a vibrant community of over 43,000.