It’s been a three hour drive from Denver to the high plains of Northwest Kansas when I see the small sign pointing the way to a National Historic site…..Nicodemus.
Road weary and feeling sickness impending, I shack up for the night and do some research. I find that Nicodemus is the last remaining western community established by African Americans after the Civil War. A place where ex-slaves could flee the war-torn South and start new lives with “real” freedom.
I awake the next day to eight degrees outside and blowing snow. My head is fuzzy and sinuses stuffy. I should go back to bed yet Nicodemus is calling me from deep within. Every seeker has a deep feeling that there must be something more to life, a great truth to be discovered.
As the biblical character Nicodemus sought out Jesus for answers, I search for the town of the same name. I have ninety minutes of driving through the empty Kansas landscape to contemplate.
Driving further along the dirt roads, a man appears from nowhere, trying to warm up in the freezing morning by doing sprints in his front yard. He glances curiously at me for a moment before returning to his morning exercise routine. I turn the corner and continue on.
Churches, banks and hotels sit in the blue Kansas sky as reminders of a community that once thrived with a renewed spirit. The promise of the great Union Pacific Railroad to come through here failed though, and instead it was decided to pass six miles away, leaving Nicodemus a stranded village.
The schoolhouse still stands, the echoes of children learning in a free environment can be heard in it’s walls. Happy, playful playground sounds embedded in the creaking metal of the swings.
A ninety minute drive to see a part of history that many may not know. As I’m resting at the schoolyard historical sign, a large farm truck is rumbling toward me. The driver slows down as he approaches, as I imagine outsiders are a rarity these days.
I see curly white whiskers covering dark skin. Gleaming white teeth blind me as the driver smiles widely and raises his hand to befriend me.
The feeling that he is a direct descendant of those first settlers of this land that only wanted a fresh start after the Civil War is strong and powerful.
Our chance encounter is the reason I was drawn here.