Homesteading was a central feature of the Euro American, African American, and immigrant settlement of the Great Plains. Homesteading was open to male citizens over 21, war veterans of any age, widows and single women, married women who were heads of households, and new immigrants if they simply affirmed their intention to become citizens. When an 1866 civil rights act clarified that Black people were citizens, African Americans could and did homestead.
This project seeks to learn, preserve, and disseminate the story of African Americans who homesteaded in the Great Plains. The project is a collaborative effort with Nicodemus National Historic Site and the Homestead National Historical Park and is partially funded by the National Park Service.
The project is producing a general survey of Black homesteaders in eight states: Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado. The research will create the first extensive database of black homesteaders in these states. The project also focuses on six important Black homesteading communities or ‘colonies’: Blackdom, NM; Nicodemus, KS; DeWitty, NE; Empire, WY; Dearfield, CO; and Sully County, SD. They are the largest and longest-lived communities in each state. A new section of the project will focus on Oklahoma.
Black Homesteader ResearchOklahoma Project National Park Service story
Be a part of our research!
We are working to discover and preserve stories of African Americans who claimed homesteads in the Great Plains. If your ancestor was a Black homesteader, we invite you to help us save these stories for future generations. You can do so by telling us about your ancestors with this form.
Read about the project in this Washington Post op/ed piece.
- The First Migrants: How Black Homesteaders’ Quest for Land and Freedom Heralded America’s Great Migration by Richard Edwards and Jacob K. Friefeld
- "African Americans and the Southern Homestead Act,” Richard Edwards, Great Plains Quarterly 39.2 (Spring, 2019)
- “African American Homesteader ‘Colonies’ in the Settling of the Great Plains,” Richard Edwards, Mikal Eckstrom, and Jacob K. Friefeld, Great Plains Quarterly 39.1 (Winter, 2019)
“DeWitty and Black Homesteading in Nebraska,” Mikal Eckstrom and Richard Edwards, Great Plains Quarterly 38:3 (Fall, 2018).
- “New Evidence on the Number of Black Homesteaders in the Great Plains,” Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, Mikal Eckstrom, and Richard Edwards, Great Plains Quarterly (Summer 39.3 Summer).
Richard Edwards, Center Director, and Mikal Eckstrom, Post-Doctoral Researcher, spoke on their research about African American homesteaders in the Great Plains. Their project, funded by the National Park Service, seeks to bring to life a history that was nearly forgotten. Dr. Deanda Johnson, National Park Service, and Dr. Jeannette Jones, UNL history department, comment on their research.
More Homesteading Research
The goal of the Center's project is to make available data and other resources on homesteading to scholars and to provide an accurate and authentic narrative of the homesteading experience.