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Black "Exodusters" Explain their Reasons for Leaving the South

Beginning in the mid-1870s, as Northern support for Radical Reconstruction retreated, thousands of African Americans chose to leave the South in the hope of finding equality on the western frontier. Taking their cue from the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, they called themselves "exodusters." This letter to the National Emigrant Aid Society from a group of North Carolina freedpeople lists their reasons for wanting to migrate to Kansas.

August 1, 1879

We the people of the 2nd Congressional District, North Carolina, have a Strong Desire to Emigrate to Kanses Land Where we can Have a Home. Reason and why:

  1. We have not our rights in law.

  2. The old former masters do not allow us anything for our labor.

  3. We have not our Right in the Election. We are defrauded by our former masters.

  4. We have not no [right] to make an honest and humble living.

  5. There is no use for the Colored to go to law after their Rights; not one out of 50 gets his Rights.

  6. The Ku [Klux Klan] Reigns.

  7. We Want to Get to a land Where we can Vote and it not be a Crime to the Colored Voters.

  8. Wages is very low [here]

Nearly all of the laborers have families to take care of and many other things we could mention, but by the help of God we intend to make our start to Kansas land. We had Rather Suffer and be free, than to suffer [the] infamous degrades that are Brought upon us [here]

Rev. S Heath
Moses Heath
Lenoir Co., N.C.

Source | Senate Report 693, 46th Congress, 2nd Session (1880); from American Social History Project, Who Built America? Working People & the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, & Society, Vol. 1, first edition (Pantheon, 1989), 512.
Creator | S. Heath and Moses Heath
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | S. Heath and Moses Heath, “Black "Exodusters" Explain their Reasons for Leaving the South,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 24, 2023,

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