Nicodemus

“I am anxious to reach your state … because of the sacredness of her soil washed by the blood of humanitarians for the cause of freedom.”

— S.L. Johnson, black Louisianan in a letter to Kansas Governor John St John, 1879


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.

A town once bustling with refugee’s from the South, today it holds near “Ghost Town” status. The American flag flies high in front of an empty town hall. My only companion, it would seem, is history.

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.

Wench, bring my ale, what say you?