Exodusters in West Topeka, Kansas, 1880
Image Ownership: Public Domain
In response to the mass exodus from the south in 1879 and 1880, Kansas Governor and Quaker John St. John established the Kansas Freedman’s Relief Association (KFRA). The Association was created in 1879 to “aid destitute freedmen, refugees and immigrants” who were migrating to Kansas.
As more Exodusters, as these migrants were called, settled in Kansas, anti-black sentiments began to rise, causing Federal, state and municipal aide for the KFRA to diminish. With little municipal aide, the KFRA turned to private donations. The KFRA hired John M. Brown, an African American school teacher from Mississippi and two white Quakers, Laura Haviland, a philanthropist from Michigan and Elizabeth L. Comstock of Kansas to raise money and direct relief efforts.
The KFRA relied almost exclusively on the aid of private philanthropists, religious organizations and prominent members such as the former abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and Phillip Armour, a prominent meat packer from Chicago. The KFRA also solicited donations from abroad. English citizens alone donated $13,000 to the KFRA.
The KFRA provided temporary shelter, employment, some monetary aid and assistance in resettling in various Kansas counties. To help house the influx of African migrants, the KFRA built and maintained a temporary shelter called the Barracks, located in Topeka. This temporary facility eventually housed over four hundred men, women and children as they transitioned to their life in Kansas. The KFRA also helped in the establishment of a common school in Dunlop, Kansas, one of the African American communities that welcomed the Exodusters.
Nell Irvin Painter, Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction, the
First Major Migration to the North of Ex-Slaves (New York: Alfred A
Knopf, Inc., 1976); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier:
African Americans in the American West (New York: W.W. Norton and
University of Washington