The Civil War has ended, and slavery has been abolished. In Mississippi, Black men and women face an uncertain future.
Will you stay on the plantation and work as a sharecropper? Or will you travel up the Mississippi River to start a new life?
Library of Congress
After the dilemma:
What really happened
After the Civil War, slavery was abolished in America. However, many southern states passed, and violently enforced, Black Codes -- laws that restricted the freedoms of Black men and women.
White people's racist beliefs and hiring discrimination meant that sharecropping was one of the only jobs available to Black people in the southern states. The life of a sharecropper was hardly different from life as a slave.
Nine southern states passed vagrancy laws, which meant a Black man could be arrested if he did not have a job. Once arrested, the Black men would be put on "chain gangs." White landowners could purchase men from the chain gangs, and force them to work on plantations for the remainder of their prison sentence.
Many Black southerners moved to St. Louis in hopes of starting a new life. Black and White people found themselves competing for the same jobs, which upset many Whites. In 1917, a mob of thousands of White men led a violent riot in the Black neighborhoods of St. Louis. Over 200 Black people were murdered, and many homes and businesses were destroyed.
Nicodemus, Kansas was founded by a small group of freedmen in 1877, about ten years after the events in the dilemma. The founders mailed advertisements to Black farmers in the south, encouraging them to come start a new life away from the plantations.
The residents of Nicodemus faced a major setback when the Union Pacific Railroad refused to build a train station in their town. Many of the residents departed Nicodemus to be closer to the railroad.
Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Black Codes, Sharecropping, Westward Expansion
Residents of Nicodemus. approx. 1880s
Nicodemus Blues baseball team. 1907