The best books about African Americans in the West after the Civil War

Who am I?

I’m a multi-award-winning novelist and Kansas historian. Through reading letters written by African Americans in Kansas, I realized that black people were a major political force. In fact, with the settlement of Nicodemus, for the first time in American history, enough black people had gathered in one place to dominate political decisions and prevail over the white community. No one had told the story of the three black powerhouses who shaped politics on a county, state, and national level. I was thrilled when University of Oklahoma Press published my academic book. It won second place in the Westerner’s International Best Book contest.


I wrote...

Nicodemus

By Charlotte Hinger,

Book cover of Nicodemus

What is my book about?

Pushed out of the South as Reconstruction ended and as white landowners, employers, and “Redeemer” governments tried to reestablish the constraints of slavery, thousands of African Americans migrated west in search of better opportunities. As the first all-black community on the plains, Nicodemus, Kansas was a microcosm of all the issues facing black Americans in the late nineteen century. Three of the homesteaders, Abram Thompson Hall, Jr., Edward Preston McCabe, and John W. Niles—exerted extraordinary influence over county, state, and national politics. Hall supported individual achievement, McCabe legislation, and Niles slave reparations. The men were archetypes for differing powerful philosophies that have persisted into the twenty-first century. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

Charlotte Hinger Why did I love this book?

W.E.B Du Bois’s magnificent contribution to Post-Reconstrucion history put a stop to the notion that blacks were lightweights when it came to academia. Du Bois is a careful historian but doesn’t hesitate to speak from a black agenda. I’m well aware that this book supports my own ideas that blacks were a force in settling the West, but still, the truth will come out. Black people exerted extraordinary political influence. Du Bois, was a serious scholar, with impeccable credentials, and the founder of the NAACP. This man can write! I’m envious of his matchless ability to present history. 

By W.E.B. Du Bois,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

W. E. B. Du Bois was a public intellectual, sociologist, and activist on behalf of the African American community. He profoundly shaped black political culture in the United States through his founding role in the NAACP, as well as internationally through the Pan-African movement. Du Bois's sociological and historical research on African-American communities and culture broke ground in many areas, including the history of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. Du
Bois was also a prolific author of novels, autobiographical accounts, innumerable editorials and journalistic pieces, and several works of history.

Black Reconstruction in America tells and interprets the story of…


Book cover of Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction

Charlotte Hinger Why did I love this book?

I’m a native Kansan. I have a special appreciation for books about my beloved state. So, finding this superb work about African Americans moved me to tears. Painter writes about the great migration from the South after the Civil War. Kansas was literally regarded as “The Promised Land” due to the Homestead Act and the promise of free land. Painter is unflinching in her telling of the violence that occurred to prevent black people from leaving. The Exodus to Kansas was feverish and dangerous. She tells of heroics required to leave the South, due to black people's “fear of future evil, and their dread of renewed slavery.” 

By Nell Irvin Painter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Exodusters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first major migration to the North of ex-slaves.


Book cover of In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West 1528-1990

Charlotte Hinger Why did I love this book?

The scope of Racial Frontier is enormous. I was impressed with the timeline (1528-1990) and Taylor’s analysis of the relationships of black people with American Indians and immigrants from various regions. There’s an excellent chapter on black towns in the west. The book explores racial prejudices and challenges and triumphs in urban cultures. Racial Frontier broadened my understanding of the perilous journey of black people beyond Kansas to California and states in between. Not all were interested in owning land and Taylor provides a comprehensive overview of African Americans in occupations requiring specialized skills. 

By Quintard Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Search of the Racial Frontier as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A landmark history of African Americans in the West, In Search of the Racial Frontier rescues the collective American consciousness from thinking solely of European pioneers when considering the exploration, settling, and conquest of the territory west of the Mississippi. From its surprising discussions of groups of African American wholly absorbed into Native American culture to illustrating how the largely forgotten role of blacks in the West helped contribute to everything from the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation ruling to the rise of the Black Panther Party, Quintard Taylor fills a major void in American history and reminds us…


Book cover of In Search of Canaan: Black Migration to Kansas, 1879-80

Charlotte Hinger Why did I love this book?

Talk about primary sources! Do any exist that Athearn didn’t manage to locate? Not only is his writing highly readable, he includes details that can only be acquired through rigorous scholarship. In Search of Canann, explores the reasons for black people’s mass migration from Kansas. The South was suddenly deprived of workers. Due to the highly political atmosphere, the Senate organized a committee to investigate the “pell-mell land rush to Kansas, an unreasoned almost mindless exodus toward some vague ideal, some western paradise, where all cares would vanish.” 

By Robert G. Athearn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Search of Canaan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Word spread across the southern farm country, and into the minds of those who labored over cotton or sugar crops, that the day of reckoning was near at hand, that the Lord had answered black prayers with the offer of deliverance in a western Eden. In this vast state where Brown had caused blood to flow in his righteous wrath, there was said to be land for all, and land especially for poor blacks who for so long had cherished the thought of a tiny patch of America that they could call their own. The soil was said to be…


Book cover of The Black Towns

Charlotte Hinger Why did I love this book?

In addition to information about patterns of settlement and leadership, Crockett provides a rare glimpse into intra-racial prejudices. Was it better to have light-colored skin, or would pride in being black predominate? Some editors argued that “past association with whites had corrupted the race.” Skin color was a criterion for social position in some communities, with attitudes varying from town to town. Most scholars are reluctant to touch this subject. I salute Crockett’s courage in delving into the hierarchy of color.   

By Norman L. Crockett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Black Towns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Appomattox to World War I, Black Americans continued their quest for a secure position in the American system. The problem was how to be both black and American-how to find acceptance, or even toleration, in a society in which the boundaries of normative behavior, the values, and the very definition of what it meant to be an American were determined and enforced by whites. A few black leaders proposed self-segregation inside the United States within the protective confines of an all-Black community as one possible solution. The Black-town idea reached its peak in the fifty years after the Civil…


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Book cover of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

Clifford A. Wright Author Of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

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Interested in African Americans, Kansas, and the American Civil War?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about African Americans, Kansas, and the American Civil War.

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