Restrictive racial policies rather than the African American ability to organize appear to be the cause for slowed progress for African Americans in the American West. African American organizational abilities are aptly demonstrated in the life of William L. Eagleson of Kansas. Although little is known of his background before he moved to Kansas, Eagleson would become in the Sunflower State a passionate supporter of racial justice. Eagleson was an ardent supporter of the Kansas Freedman’s Relief Association.
During his years in Kansas Eagleson founded a number of newspapers the first of which was the Colored Citizen which he began in Fort Scott in 1877. One year later he moved the paper to Topeka. Eagleson was also the founder of the Oklahoma Immigrant Association in 1889. Although the credit usually goes to Edwin P. McCabe in the promotion of the settlement of blacks in Oklahoma Territory in the 1890s, William L. Eagleson was as influential as his partner in land speculation and development in the territory. Like McCabe, Eagleson recruited African American settlers to Oklahoma and both men are credited along with a white land speculator for establishing the African American town of Langston City, Oklahoma.
Perhaps William L. Eagleson’s most lasting contribution was his direct link to the chain of events which led to the famous school desegregation decision in 1954 known as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In 1878 Eagleson, through the editorial pages of the Colored Citizen, became one of the first Topeka residents to recommend legal action to challenge racial segregation in local public schools. Seventy-six years later the Brown Decision was handed down outlawing de jure segregation not only in Topeka but across the nation.
The Kansas Historical Society; Quintard Taylor, In Search of The Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998).
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