Trust for Public Land, Township of Nicodemus and National Park Service Expand Nicodemus National Historic Site
NICODEMUS, Kan. – Today, the Township of Nicodemus, Trust for Public Land, and the National Park Service announced the expansion of the Nicodemus National Historic Site. With support and funding from partners including the National Park Foundation and Sony Pictures Entertainment, Trust for Public Land has purchased and donated a parcel of land within the Township, which will serve as the future location for a permanent visitor center.
Nicodemus is the oldest and only remaining historic Black settlement west of the Mississippi River. During the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, formerly enslaved African Americans left the South and moved west to Kansas as part of post-Civil War migration and western expansion in the United States. The site today represents the involvement of this group in the western expansion movement and ultimate settlement of the Great Plains.
“History is often thought of as primarily a matter of oral traditions and written records, yet tangible spaces, whether structures or landscapes, also play a critical role in constructing our collective memory,” said Dr. Jocelyn Imani, Trust for Public Land’s Black History and Culture Director. “By preserving and uplifting the story of Nicodemus and so many other Black historic sites nationwide, we have an opportunity to tell a much fuller history that highlights the spirit, courage, and determination of African Americans as agents in their own destiny.”
“Nicodemus is a national icon that testifies to the vision and tenacity of newly emancipated African Americans. These former enslaved people had a vision and made it a reality with sheer determination and a strong belief in God,” said Angela Bates, Nicodemus descendant and founder of the Nicodemus National Historical Society. “Nicodemus is a powerful story of people fighting for a place within a country that they helped build. Let us all celebrate this great American story.”
The future visitor center will tell the story of the Nicodemus settlement through the eyes of the community and provide a jumping off point for visitors and community members to explore the Nicodemus National Historic Site in its entirety. This expansion also returns the Townhall, previously used as a makeshift visitors center, back to the Nicodemus community.
“We at Nicodemus National Historic Site are thrilled by the acquisition and donation of land for the future visitor center. This new facility will provide a new experience for visitors to learn the history of Nicodemus and improve economic benefits to the Township,” said Frank Torres, National Park Service Superintendent.
An additional grant from the National Park Foundation will support the community engagement process to inform plans to design, build and activate the new visitor’s center.
“The story of Nicodemus is a living history,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “The community’s active engagement is central to elevating and sharing with park visitors the personal experiences and insights that bring history to life at Nicodemus National Historic Site.”
The town currently is comprised of five historic buildings representing church, self-government, education, home, and business. They illustrate “the individual and collective strength of character and desire for freedom of these early pioneers who established Nicodemus.” The buildings were declared the 355th unit of the National Park System on November 12, 1996. In 1998, Trust for Public Land helped protect the African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) Church, built in 1885, as one of five historic buildings that are part of the National Historic Site.
“So few of the places that tell our common story reflect the Black experience in America,” said Keith Weaver, Executive Vice President, Global Policy and External Affairs for Sony Pictures Entertainment and National Board Member of Trust for Public Land. “Sony Pictures is honored to help tell the story of the Nicodemus settlers and support the growing movement to preserve, expand and activate spaces that reflect Black history and culture nationwide.”
Trust for Public Land is working to accelerate the preservation of sites nationwide that tell the story of Black life in America through the Black History and Culture initiative, work that is supported by a growing community of funders, companies like Sony Pictures Entertainment and leaders who are committed to a more equitable and share a passion for creating, protecting, and activating public spaces of historical and cultural significance to Black communities across the country.
About Trust for Public Land
Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 3 million acres of public land, created more than 5,000 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $84 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected more than 9 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit tpl.org.