After the Civil War, former slaves embraced their newly found freedom and went westward to establish Black communities on the Great Plains. Nicodemus, KS, was one of those towns and it’s the only Black town still remaining in Kansas. They celebrated that long history this past weekend with their 143rd Annual Homecoming Celebration.
Nicodemus swelled with hundreds of people traveling from all over the nation to be a part of the celebration.
“Considering what’s going on right now in the world. It was a really good turnout. We appreciate everyone who came and supported the event and park services for everything they’ve done,” said Kim Thomas, a Nicodeums descendant who has served as mayor of nearby Stockton KS for nearly two decades.
In 1876, Thomas’ great-grandfather R.B. Scruggs began hosting the yearly Nicodemus community celebration in his grove. During the earlier celebrations, the women of the church would fry chicken and Scruggs borrowed lumber from a local company to build a stage for the townspeople to sing and dance.
This year’s activities included a parade on Saturday and the dedication of a new museum. The parade procession was led by members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. Their ancestors helped teach the early Nicodemus settlers how to make fire, build houses for winter, and even shared their buffalo meat.
The parade lineup also featured descendants from some of Nicodemus’ earliest families, representatives of the national 400 Years of African-American History Commission (AAHC), National Miss Juneteenth 2021, and the Wichita NAACP.
The A.R.I.S.E ensemble, a chorale group from Wichita that sings traditional Negro spirituals, participated in the parade and performed at the AME Methodist Church museum dedication.
The historic AME church, built in 1885, is the oldest surviving building in Nicodemus. It had been closed for decades due to safety concerns, but thanks to the help of the AME Church and others, it was restored as a museum.
KS Gov. Laura Kelly was on hand for the dedication. Following the parade, the AAHC presented the Nicodemus Historical Society with a $10,000 grant that the society plans to put towards a museum building.
Despite their diminishing numbers, the residents of Nicodemus, descendents and supporters are determined to keep the historic city alive. In 1996, the Nicodemus National Historic Site was designated by Congress as a part of the National Park Service , which is further helping to insure the city’s legacy.