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
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).