Angela Bates

Angela Bates in Nicodemus, Kansas.

Angela Bates is the director of the historical society in Nicodemus, Kansas, a town that was settled by freed slaves after the Civil War in an effort to experience real freedom. All of the current 16 residents, including Angela, are direct descendants of those original settlers. It is the only remaining all-Black town west of the Mississippi.

Angela sees herself as a descendant of people who had vision, determination, and a great faith in God. She honors their memory by preserving their heritage and by working for positive change in the world.

Angela says that when we first encounter one another, we may base our initial perceptions on physical traits, because we have little more to go on. But as we get to know one another, we are able to see the human spirit, which has nothing to do with color.

You may see me as an African American woman and you may react to me initially as an African American woman, but by the time that we finish talking, then you will just know Angela. You will just know my spirit, and it has nothing to do with my color.”

This town is small in terms of the population but it’s huge in history. It represents an entire chapter in American history where African Americans were moving west after the Civil War. Rather than staying in the south, the opportunity for land and to govern themselves in their own all black town existed here in the west. I’m a descendant of those people. I’m a descendant of people that had a vision, that had determination, and that had faith in God and they made their dream a reality. I carry with me the gene of determination, the gene of faith, and a desire to make a difference. As a descendant I take the stewardship of Nicodemus very seriously.

 I start off each day — before I even get out of the bed — by tuning myself up. I pray and I align my will with God’s. I say, “Not my will but yours.” I’ve got my own agenda for the day but when I align mine with yours, let me be flexible enough that I can read the signs and go where I need to go and do what I need to do.

 As an African American woman, you wake up in the morning and you know you’re African American. We’re living in a society that has not processed the effects of slavery. We’re all dealing with a post-traumatic stress. We think of the wounded warriors that come back and the veterans having PTSD but all Americans have it. We have been raised in a country that does not have the best past. We tend to forget that we have been terrorists in our own land against our own people. And being African American in this country has not been the best experience, so to speak. It’s been a great experience in terms of teaching us how to be tolerant, and adjust to an environment that has been very hostile to us, and still is, in many respects. But we cannot escape that. It’s a part of who we are. It’s present every day.

 So as an African American, I have a choice. How am I going to react to the world around me? When I meet people, I want them to know who I am. You may see me as an African American woman and you may react to me initially as an African American woman, but by the time that we finish talking, then you will just know Angela. You will just know my spirit, and it has nothing to do with my color.

 Those differences are there, but it’s not about the differences, it’s about those moments when we are encountering one another – what are we going to do with those moments? I see you as a human being. I don’t see you as someone that’s white. Now, initially we may encounter that but as we embark upon understanding one another, all of those differences fall aside and what’s left is just the human experience.

 When we encounter one another, initially we have nothing but the physical but when we get beyond just that initial phase of it then we begin to understand that, “Oh, well you’re married and you have a wife, and maybe you have some children. Oh, we’ve got that in common.” “Oh, you like Chinese food? So do I. We’ve got that in common.” You know, “You like to take vacations and you like to ride bicycles.” You start to see that you’re just another human being that has likes and dislikes and the same kind of desires that all of us have. We all have the same basic needs. We really all want to be accepted and loved and appreciated. And that’s a human kind of thing. It has nothing to do with color. It has nothing to do with culture. It has nothing to do with race. It has something to do with being a human.

 And all the other stuff? It’s all foolishness. It really is. We have to get past all those other things that make up the world physically. All of those things become distractions. “I don’t like you because you’re not living on the right side of the tracks.” “You’re not driving the right car. I don’t like the way that you’re dressed. I don’t like people that wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats. They’re a bunch of hicks.”

 We start imposing these things on one another and they’re all biases. It’s really just foolishness. What value does it have? Who cares about that? All of that stuff is going to go away anyway. What’s really important is the encounter that we have with one another, the little bit of energy that we exchange with one another.

Angela Bates full podcast

Discussion Questions

  • What masks do you wear in your life?
  • Do we have a duty to preserve the history of the times, places, and people who came before us? Why or why not?
  • Where are your roots? Is this the same place as “home”? Does it have to be?
  • Is there anything in life that you feel called towards but are resisting? Why?
  • How can we begin to process, as a country, the trauma we’ve perpetrated against our own people?
  • Are there limits in trying to see past someone’s physical traits?
  • What do you think Angela means when she says you can’t find peace? How can we work to arrive there?
  • What in your family’s history are you proud of?

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