I grew up in Western Kansas on a farm. Well, until my Dad changed careers from a farmer to an ordained Methodist preacher. Then I was thrown from an unknown kid into the proverbial glass bowl that is the life definition of being a preacher's kid. But that is another story.
Growing up on the homestead back in the sixties and early seventies did not afford me many opportunities to encounter ethnicities beyond different types of Caucasians: French-Canadian, Volga Germans, Irish, and other European descendants.
But there was an exception.
About 15 miles to the southeast of the Hunter homestead was the town of Nicodemus. Nicodemus back then was a small town with two active churches and the best barbeque I ever tasted at Ernestine’s Bar-B-Que. What made Nicodemus unique was that it was the only Black Town west of the Mississippi. So, among an all-white dominated section of the country was this little town that stood for freedom, independence, and resilency.
Nicodemus was founded by former enslaved African-Americans who traveled from Kentucky with the promise of land. Some of those early Nicodemus Exodusters who traveled from Kentucky were disappointed in the vast Kansas landscape devoid of trees and humanity. But many stayed and created a town that is still around today, although now, Nicodemus is a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.
I learned a lot from my visits to Nicodemus as a young boy besides enjoying awesome barbeque at Ernestine's.
The population of Nicodemus explodes each end of July for the Emancipation Homecoming celebration. Anyone with any type of family relations to the residents of Nicodemus' past came back "home" to celebrate the town. I learned from these celebrations the importance of family reunions and that jazz was a pretty cool form of music.
When I was no older than five, I went to my first revival week at the Nicodemus First Baptist Church. At first, I was terrified. I never witnessed so much active participation by people in the pews during a service. But I grew to love it. I learned that celebrating religious beliefs did not fit into a one-size-fits-all category. I made sure that as a father to my children that they attended their share of church services at African-American churches here in Chattanooga so that they could experience the same thing I did growing up.
Another important lesson I learned from Nicodemus was to persevere. The early settlers of Nicodemus had few willing to help. But through adversity, they overcame with resilient independence that no one could take away. Nicodemus became home for generations of African-Americans on the western plains of Kansas. I am grateful that it did.
Find out more about Nicodemus at this NPS.gov link.