One of these towns is still thriving
This Halloween, why not visit a real Black ghost town in America? In the late 1800s, many freed Black Americans headed west to seek their homesteads. These brave adventurers chartered areas in the nation’s western states and established thriving communities that lasted through the turn of the 20th century.
Some of these towns may no longer be in existence, but their contributions to American history is no trick. Treat yourself to a little history on our heritage tour "west of the Mississippi."
Inspired by Booker T. Washington's autobiography Up from Slavery, businessman and entrepreneur Oliver Toussaint Jackson founded Dearfield, Colorado, in 1910. He envisioned this new Western front as a self-sustaining, agricultural community for Black Americans. Originally settled by just two families, by 1915, Deerfield had 40 farms and a 140-acre townsite. Its main avenue was named after Washington, and the town had its own filling station, a dance hall, two churches, a school and a lunch room. At its height, the town was appraised over $1 million. In 1962, Old Deerfield Village was declared a Registered National Historical Landmark and marked with a plaque.
In 1877, newly freed slaves founded Nicodemus, Kansas. As the first Black community west of the Mississippi River, African American farmers descended upon the land in hopes of carving out a new life. At its height, Nicodemus had a baseball team, post office, ice cream parlor and two newspapers. The Nicodemus community helped elect people of color to county positions and State office. While this western frontier faltered in 1888, Nicodemus was named a National Historical Landmark in 1976. Now boasting around 23 residents, the town has tours to see St. Francis Hotel, the First Baptist Church and the public Township Hall. Its historic A.M.E. Church, built in 1885, has been renovated; it opened to visitors in 2021.
Blackdom, New Mexico
Blackdom, New Mexico was established in 1903 by 13 African American investors. With $10,000 in combined assets, they founded the Blackdom Townsite Company, naming Frank Boyer as its president. Blackdom became the state’s first Black community. By 1908, the town had a thriving population of 300 with local businesses, a newspaper and a church. Crop failures and other calamities, including the Great Depression, led to its demise in the 1920s. To commemorate Blackdom’s existence, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division erected the official Blackdom Townsite historic marker recognizing the nearly 15,000 acres of land built by a self-sustaining community that boasted a general store and a Baptist church.
Nigton, Texas, a settlement established by newly freed African Americans, got its name from civic leader and teacher Jeff Carter in 1873. The farming community grew and by 1896, the town had its own post office, a sawmill, cotton gin, wagon maker and three churches serving its bustling population of 500. It was the largest Black community in its county through the 1930s. It had an active roster of church, club and social activities for children and adults. In 1929, Nigton established the Negro Business League. But as people moved away to find better job opportunities, the town's population dropped to only 10 people by the 1940s. In 2017, Nigton received an official Texas Historical Marker. It now has a residency of about 87 people, and most are descendants of its founding community.
Edward P. McCabe, an African American politician, founded Langston on April 22, 1890, one of nearly 50 Black towns and settlements created in Oklahoma in the late 19th century. A preacher, doctor, schoolteacher and nearly 200 other residents made up its population in 1891. One year later, the town expanded to 25 businesses, including a bank and public school. Langston welcomed a telephone service system in 1895. The Colored Agricultural and Normal University at Langston opened in 1897, which is now home to Langston University, the only historically Black college in Oklahoma. The school helped Langton weather the Great Depression, and the town continues to foster great Black minds on Langston's campus.