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In this research project theme we will be examining the patterns of movement of African American peoples before, during and after the Exoduster period in the late 1870's.

This type of research is generally called historical research. Historical research is the fascinating study of peoples and events of the past and the uncovering of the stories that had their influence on how things are today. Historical research does not have to be about the famous. The events in the lives of common and unknown people are often the most fascinating.

The data for examining this extraordinary movement of people lies in dusty records in hundreds of historical museums across the United States. Many of the most useful records related to this immigration are census records. Often the census records from that era are handwritten and not commonly seen by most museum visitors. Following the link you can see a typical sheet from the census record of the late 1800's.


Image of a Census Taker
National Historical Census

University of Virginia Library, Historical Census Browser.

Historic census records (link above) often contain information such as names, date of birth, place of birth, occupation, race, sex, last state of residence or the location from which immigrants moved. They also may contain agricultural records with many fascinating pieces of information about the residence. For example records may include types of livestock owned or even details such as the number of livestock killed by wolves. These historic census records provide much valuable data from which students can investigate a variety of historical research questions. In this project a minimal collection of census data should include the following data:

  • State of Records
  • County of Records
  • Census date
  • Name
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Occupation
  • State of Birth
  • State Immigrated From

In this project students will need to compare information from at least two census years. Those years are the census dates on either sides of the 1879 Exoduster immigration. This might be the federal census conducted in 1870 and 1880 or a local agricultural census such as occurred in Kansas. In Kansas agricultural census data was collected in 1875 and again in 1885. By collecting census records before and after the Exoduster immigration students can compare the movement of African Americans during this critical period of time.

You can find records like these by asking your local historical museum. Consult the local telephone book, your local library, historical societies or your state government. Sometimes state historical societies or government agencies will have digitized the census data. Finding the ata on disk, or CD is possible but not likely. More likely than not it will be in paper form or on microfilm or microfiche. This will mean that it will take some long hours of browsing through these records. A real service for your community could be undertaken by students by typing these records into a database or spreadsheet. Students and teachers can work out with the local authorities the methods for doing this. Possible methods would be:

  • Obtaining printed records, taking them back to the school and typing the information into a data base such as Microsoft Access or Works.
  • Students placed as interns at the local museum could type the information into a database on-site.

Once the records are organized, they can be more easily accessible by others interested in the research. They should be entered into the Pathfinder Online database. Click on the Data Submission to access the data entry form for Pathfinder community database. This will allow your local data to be added to a text and a map based interpretation of this great immigration of African Americans.

Using primary and secondary sources (examples at the bottom of this page) students should complete these tasks for their own local area.

  • Write a summary of each of the sources primary and secondary sources on immigration to your state.
  • Make a list of the slave holding states in the Union in 1860 and the non slave holding states in 1860.
  • Write a five paragraph essay that discusses the main causes for African-American immigration from the South after the Civil War.
  • Use the 1875 State Agricultural Census to create a table that includes all the information contained in that census for all African-American residents in the local county or township.
  • Use the 1885 State Agricultural Census to create a table that includes all the information contained in that census for each African-American resident in the local county or township.

Examples of Primary Sources

Kansas State Agricultural Census. 1875

Kansas State Agricultural Census. 1885.

Singleton, Benjamin. United States Senate Testimony. Senate Select Committee. Negro Exodus from the Southern States. Washington, D. C.: April 17, 1880.

Examples of Secondary Resources

African American Mosaic: Western Migration and Homesteading . Library of Congress On-Line Exhibit. http://lcweb.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam009.html

Coombs, Norman. "The New Negro Immigration and Migration". The Black Experience in America: The Immigrant Heritage of America (Twayne, 1972).

Lawrence, Dennis. "Black Migration To Wyandotte County 1860 - 1900." The Impact of Local, State and Federal Government Decisions on the Segregation and Subsequent Integration of Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas . Diss. University of Kansas, 1997.

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