Nicodemus, Kansas (1877)

During the period of the so-called Kansas Fever Exodus, several black settlements were established, Nicodemus being one.  It was founded in 1877, is the sole remaining Reconstruction-era town established by and for Blacks. 

As a result, it has received a fair amount of attention in the history books. Yet one matter about it remains unclear: how it came by its name. 

Most historians think the name "Nicodemus" comes from a legendary slave of African birth. They think this because of a well-known Civil War-era song, "Wake, Nicodemus!" that was used to advertise plots for sale.

But there are good reasons to think otherwise (which I explain fully in an article published in Great Plains Quarterly). Suffice it to say that the minor biblical character of Nicodemus, who appears only in the Gospel of John, was well-known among African Americans eschewing former slave identities and forging new lives in new places. 

Nicodemus comes to converse with Jesus in secret and at night, as did African Americans seeking to worship and learning to read (especially learning to read the Bible). 

Nicodemus is the one to whom Jesus says, "You must be born again" (or "from above"). The shedding of a former slave identity for a free self made Nicodemus especially resonant for Reconstruction-era Blacks. (John 3:1-17) 

African American portraitist Henry Ossawa Tanner painted this portrait of Jesus and Nicodemus in 1899. He was one of a number of African Americans using Nicodemus as a touchstone, a number that includes the founders of this sole remaining African American town founded during Reconstruction. 

Jesus and Nicodemus on a Rooftop