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Freed slaves set to arrive in promised land

7/23/2013

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

NICODEMUS -- It's been a long trip from Kentucky and a long walk after disembarking from the train in Ellis, but freed slaves will arrive home Saturday in Nicodemus.

It's all part of a re-enactment that started nearly a year ago in Sadieville, Ky.

That's when current-day residents of Nicodemus -- the only remaining all-black settlement west of the Mississippi River -- ventured south for a three-step re-enactment of freed slaves heading to the "promised land of Kansas" 136 years ago. In October, Nicodemus residents staged the second stop in Ellis, the final stopping-off point before heading north on foot and by wagon.

The final leg will be Saturday, during the 135th Nicodemus Emancipation Celebration.

It's a celebration that coincides with the 150th anniversary of emancipation, and Troy Strahan, a Lincoln-look-alike and professional presenter, will read the Emancipation Proclamation to Nicodemus descendants and visitors.

This year's celebration officially begins Thursday but gets geared up Friday with a reception and dance.

That also will be the grand opening -- perhaps better described as the reopening -- of Ernestine's BBQ, what had been something of an unofficial landmark in Nicodemus.

Today, however, Angela Bates -- Ernestine Van Duvall's niece -- is reopening the restaurant in what was her aunt's home.

In fact, the dining room now occupies what had been Ernestine's living room, while the kitchen has been updated.

Soon, Bates plans to open the Nicodemus Livery and Mercantile Shop, a gift shop focusing on the history of the community.

Saturday's the big day for the homecoming event, with a parade and the re-enactment.

There also will be a vintage baseball game featuring the Nicodemus Blues II playing against Russell's Prairie Clippers.

Event chairwoman Sharyn Dowdell said the biggest difference with vintage baseball is the absence of gloves.

And with only 14 people in Nicodemus, the community will have to recruit others to play on the team.

"People will come from here and there," Dowdell said.

A seventh-inning sing-along of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is planned.

Anywhere from 300 to 500 people attend the annual Emancipation celebration, she said.

Evening activities include jazz, a dance and fireworks.

The reading of the Emancipation Proclamation is set for noon, followed at 12:30 p.m. by the re-enactment.

The baseball game begins at 3:30 p.m.

Admission is $5 for children, $10 for adults.

Information about the homecoming celebration can be found at nicodemuskansas.org.