Learn about the Oklahoma Black Homesteader Project

This summer, Nicodemus, an African American homesteading community in Kansas, now a National Historic Site, will host its 143rd Emancipation Celebration-Homecoming. As the return of descendants from all over the country illustrates, the influence of Nicodemus reverberates far beyond the Sunflower State.

Individuals from Nicodemus were important figures in the larger history of homesteading. Edward (aka Edwin) P. McCabe (1850-1920), a Nicodemus leader, later encouraged Black migration to Oklahoma and was involved in efforts to make it an “all-Black state.”

In order to better understand the larger history of Black homesteading, the National Park Service is pleased to announce that it will provide funding to the Center for Great Plains Studies to focus on Oklahoma (Indian Territory in the 19th century), which had the largest number of homesteaders of African descent.

The multi-year project will be a partnership between the University of Nebraska’s Center for Great Plains Studies and the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Kalenda Eaton, Associate Professor in the Clara Luper Department of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, will lead the research team. The project aims to explore the lives of Black homesteaders in Oklahoma and examine connections between land ownership, citizenship, and upward mobility for many who had recently been enslaved. It will extend a prior Center study, also funded by the National Park Service, of Black homesteaders in other Great Plains states.

Professor Eaton says, “I am excited to lead the Oklahoma research team and enhance initiatives sponsored by the National Park Service. As we build upon and honor the prior scholarship of Black historians, educators, and genealogists, we also will not forget the experiences of those who were brought to the region or sought refuge and built lives in western America--against all odds.”

Homestead National Historical Park in Beatrice, Nebraska, began collaborating with Dr. Richard Edwards, former director of the Center for Great Plains Studies, more than a decade ago. Dr. Edwards, a leading homesteading scholar, was principal author of the earlier study, which examined Black homesteading communities in Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

The Homestead Act made thousands of acres available for settlement from land that the U.S. acquired from Indigenous nations through war, treaty negotiations, and allotment. The Homestead Act allowed African Americans, whites, and immigrants who were eligible for citizenship to acquire 160 acres for a nominal filing fee while making improvements over five years. African American homesteaders claimed nearly 650,000 acres of land throughout the Great Plains.

Project Director Mikal Brotnov Eckstrom notes, “Oklahoma is a state where the histories of formerly enslaved Americans and the forced migrations of many Native Nations come together. These histories help us understand the needs and desires of those intertwined histories with that of a burgeoning nation.”

Nicodemus National Historic Site Superintendent, Frank Torres said, “The Homesteader Project is invaluable. Thanks to the collaborative efforts made possible by our neighboring Universities of Nebraska and Oklahoma, and the National Park Service. This is an extremely important time that the Homesteading story be brought to light.”

Homestead National Historical Park Superintendent, Mark Engler shared, “We are honored to partner with the University of Nebraska and the University of Oklahoma to provide opportunities for the public to connect with this lesser-known homesteading story,” The larger project has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the 400 Years of African American History, African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund-National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the National Park Service.

For more information about the project visit:

Last updated: July 28, 2021