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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 War; at least sixty Black communities were settled between 1865 and 1915. Norman L. Crockett has focused on the formation, growth and failure of five such communities. The towns and the date of their settlement are: Nicodemus, Kansas (1879), established at the time of the Black exodus from the South; Mound Bayou, Mississippi (1897), perhaps the most prominent Black town because of its close ties to Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute: Langston, Oklahoma (1891), visualized by one of its promoters as the nucleus for the creation of an all-Black state in the West; and Clearview (1903) and Boley (1904), in Oklahoma, twin communities in the Creek Nation which offer the opportunity observe certain aspects of Indian-Black relations in this area. The role of Blacks in town promotion and settlement has long been a neglected area in western and urban history, Crockett looks at patterns of settlement and leadership, government, politics, economics, and the problems of isolation versus interaction with the white communities. He also describes family life, social life, and class structure within the black towns. Crockett looks closely at the rhetoric and behavior of blacks inside the limits of their own community—isolated from the domination of whites and freed from the daily reinforcement of their subordinate rank in the larger society. He finds that, long before “Black is beautiful” entered the American vernacular, Black-town residents exhibited a strong sense of race price. The reader observes in microcosm Black attitudes about many aspects of American life as Crockett ties the Black-town experience to the larger question of race relations at the turn of the century. This volume also explains the failure of the Black-town dream. Crockett cites discrimination, lack of capital, and the many forces at work in the local, regional, and national economies. He shows how the racial and town-building experiment met its demise as the residents of all-Black communities became both economically and psychologically trapped. This study adds valuable new material to the literature on black history, and makes a significant contribution to American social and urban history, community studies, and the regional history of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Description Norman L. Crockett (1934–2015) was professor emeritus of history at the University of Oklahoma, where he taught from 1969 until his retirement in 1998. He wrote, co-edited, and coauthored several books, including The Power Elite in America and The Woolen Industry of the Midwest. This Kansas Open Books title is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.



Publication Date



University Press of Kansas


xvi, 244 pp.


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© 1979 by The Regents Press of Kansas Reissued in 2021 by the University Press of Kansas. All rights reserved. The text of this book is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License.

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Open Access

The Black Towns