Last updated: November 2, 2021
William Kirtley understood how important land and education were to being free and living as a full and equal citizen.
Kirtley arrived in Nicodemus, Kansas in November 1878, in the third group of homesteaders to arrive. Like many of his fellow settlers, he was born into slavery. He believed that owning land encouraged self-sufficiency.
Kirtley secured a preemption claim three miles southwest of Nicodemus. Six months after arriving, he filed for a homestead claim of 160 acres. While living on the land, he built three sod houses and a frame building. He went to great lengths to get his patent, securing it in 1888.
His passion was education. As a child, he was denied the chance to learn to read and write. When he arrived in Nicodemus, he was carrying books—two Bibles, an elementary speller, and an unabridged dictionary.
He was one of the champions in the Nicodemus community in educating the community’s children. He believed that education led to self-sufficiency and freedom. He worked with other community members to organize the first school. He permitted the students to use the books that he had brought with him. School was sometimes held for four to six months, during the year. Kirtley ensured that students always had books at their disposal even when school was not in session.
William Kirtley supported the community’s values of land ownership, education, and freedom to the very end of his life. He remained on his land for sixty years.
Learn more about Black Homesteading in America.