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Homecoming Day, Nicodemus, Kansas

A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experimental utopias in america".

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  • A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experimental utopias in america".


July 2005


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


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Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Homecoming Day, Nicodemus, Kansas


United States


Made 2005


Chromogenic print, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


No markings recto or verso During the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, tens of thousands of former slaves fled the South in search of true freedom and a chance at an improved life, one in which they would be able to work for fair wages and own land. “Bleeding Kansas” had paid a terrible price (the loss of fifty-five lives to violence between pro- and antislavery forces) before it was able to enter the Union as a free state. When fliers began to appear in the South encouraging blacks to take the railroad to a new promised land—a state that had fought for and defined its beliefs—they responded in great numbers. Referred to as “exodusters,” the men and women of the Black Exodus built shanty towns on the outskirts of Kansas City and Topeka, and founded new towns like Nicodemus, named for a legendary figure who came to America on a slave ship and later purchased his freedom. The desperate families who settled in Nicodemus in September 1877 had to walk fifty-five miles from the railroad depot in Stockton to their new home on the windswept prairie. When Willina Hickman, a young exoduster who kept a diary of her experiences, arrived in the spring of 1878, she was shocked to see families living in dugouts in the ground. Just nine years later, however, the booming town of five hundred had at least five churches, a bank, four general stores, a literary society and an ice cream parlor. To attract the Union Pacific Railroad to the community, Nicodemus approved the issuance of $16,000 in bonds, but the railroad bypassed the town, and a long decline set in. All the black towns of Kansas have disappeared, except for Nicodemus. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Every year on the last weekend in July, residents and former residents of Nicodemus celebrate their pasts, both recent and ancestral. The story of Nicodemus is symbolic of the pioneering spirit of African Americans, who participated in every aspect of the shaping of the American West. They trapped, led expeditions and rode for the Pony Express. They also served in the military as “buffalo soldiers,” a name given them by Native Americans in admiration of their strength, persistence and durability. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


26.5 × 33.2 cm (image); 27.9 × 35.5 cm (paper)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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