Nicodemus descendent, historian to speak at KU Libraries on July 10

LAWRENCE — Preserving and promoting the history of the nation’s longest-standing Black homesteader colony is a personal passion for Angela Bates, founder and executive director of the Nicodemus Historical Society. A descendant of the original settlers of the town of Nicodemus, Bates has worked for over 30 years to honor the Kansas community’s legacy, establishing regional and national partnerships including collaboration with KU Libraries and the Kansas Collection.

Angela Bates
Angela Bates

Bates will give a special presentation highlighting the history and significance of Nicodemus at 1 p.m. July 10, in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery.   

“I hope one day that everybody will know where Nicodemus is and what it stands for nationally,” Bates said. “Too often we look at American history and focus in, in particular when it comes to African Americans, on the slave experience and the atrocities as a result. Then we jump right out of that into the Civil Rights Movement, but we skip over what happened to African Americans right after emancipation and coming out of the Reconstruction Era. That whole chapter is just missing, and people don’t know about it, so I’m hoping through the story of Nicodemus they will understand what African Americans did with their freedom.” 

Nicodemus was founded in 1877 by African Americans who migrated from the southern United States shortly after the Civil War. Both of Bates’ parents were from Nicodemus, directly descended from its original settlers who filed homestead claims, seeking better land and opportunities as well as refuge from the Reconstruction-era South. The homesteaders established farms and homes and the county’s first public school, with town leaders rising to prominence in state politics.  

Bates has helped establish a collection of thousands of historic photographs, documents, diaries and more reflecting the history of Nicodemus and its settlers. A basement flood in the home of Bates’ cousin, where hundreds of historical photographs had been stored, was part of the impetus to work with KU Libraries to aid preservation and provide easier access to materials for researchers and the public, efforts facilitated by ongoing connection with KU Libraries’ African American Experience Collection curator and field archivist Deborah Dandridge. 

“Our African American Experience Collections are proud to serve as a partner with the Nicodemus Historical Society during these last 30 years,” Dandridge said. “We look forward to continuing to preserve and process these resources that document a premier cornerstone of Kansas history.” 

Tue, 07/02/2024


Wendy Conover

Media Contacts

Wendy Conover

KU Libraries