Exodusters were African American homesteaders who moved westward during the last decades of the nineteenth century to settle the Great Plains. After federal troops withdrew from the South in 1877 at the end of the twelve-year period of Reconstruction (1865–1877), civil rights for African Americans began to erode. Southern state legislatures adopted laws, so-called "black codes," to restrict the movement, prosperity, and freedom of African Americans. A campaign of intimidation led by the Ku Klux Klan was intended to keep former slaves "in their place," a sentiment that seemed precariously close to the pre-Civil War slave-owner mentality. The system of sharecropping, whereby plantation owners—out of economic necessity—divided up their lands for former slave families to farm, resulted in numerous former slaves being indebted to landowners. State laws, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses, were also designed to keep African American citizens from voting, and effectively disenfranched them. Unable to improve their economic conditions, severely oppressed by the terror of the Ku Klux Klan, and unable to participate in government, southern African Americans became disillusioned—the American Civil War (1861–1865) had seemingly done little to change their quality of life. This situation prompted a mass exodus of blacks from the South during the last two decades of the nineteenth century.
While many southern African Americans migrated to cities in the North, in 1879 a major migration onto the dusty plains of Kansas began a flow westward as well. By the end of the 1800s, "all-black" towns could be found in Oklahoma and other western states. Some who migrated onto the Great Plains took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed them to settle up to 160 acres (64 hectares) of land, and lay claim to it after a period of five (and later just three) years. These homesteaders braved the harsh climate of the open plains to carve out a living for themselves. The exodusters ("exodus" since they had left the South en masse, and "dusters" since they settled the dry prairie region) helped transform the Great Plains into a prosperous agricultural region.
See also: Black Codes, Homestead Act, Homesteaders, Westward Expansion