Post-Civil War photo negatives document African- American Exodusters building new lives in Leavenworth

In the turbulent years following the Civil War, around 27,000 former slaves migrated to Kansas. They called themselves “exodusters” and they were fleeing Jim Crow laws. Some of them are remembered in a portrait exhibition of an African-American community in Leavenworth, Kansas.

by Julie Denesha, KCUR and Kansas News Service

Photographer E.E. Henry’s portrait of Samuel Green, 1880 and an unknown photographer’s portrait of Geraldine Jones, 1870s-1900s. Glass plate negatives photographed in Leavenworth, Kansas, from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
Unknown photographer’s portrait of James Turner circa 1895 and photographer Harrison Putney’s portrait of Private Paul Schrader of Ottawa, Kansas, and three soldiers from the 23rd Volunteer Infantry circa 1895-1899. Glass plate negatives photographed in Leavenworth, Kansas, from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
Unknown photographer’s portrait of H. Hopkins children and an unknown photographer’s portrait of Thomas Meadows circa 1890. Glass plate negatives photographed in Leavenworth, Kansas, from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
Photographer’s studios lined Delaware Street, in the early days of Leavenworth, Kansas. Everyday people rushed to take advantage of the new technology that could produce an image within minutes. This enlargement of a negative from the Everhard collection shows the studios of Jay Noble and E.E. Henry.

Photo studios were busy places in Leavenworth, Kansas, in the late 1870s. Thousands of everyday people flocked to have their pictures taken.

Today, some of those pictures have re-emerged — and they tell a story of an African-American community that took root in the town as Black families migrated to escape the Jim Crow south.

An exhibit on display at the Black Archives Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, features a series of black-and-white portraits that have survived more than a century. (

An older man and woman are decked out in their Sunday best. A quartet of soldiers poses in front of a woodsy backdrop. A young woman in a black hat looks boldly into the camera lens. All of the subjects are African-American.

Jade Powers is assistant curator of art at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. She takes a special interest in highlighting artists and subjects underrepresented in museum collections. (Photo by Julie Denesha)

Jade Powers, assistant curator of art at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, wasn’t involved in the creation of the exhibit, but she takes a special interest in highlighting artists and subjects underrepresented in museum collections.

“So often, the portrayals before were not maybe how African-Americans saw themselves or they were very political in a negative way to keep, you know, a certain status quo. And so with these images, it’s so exciting,” Powers said.

“I mean, you’re looking at couples, you’re looking at soldiers. It just really expands on the history of America.”

In the turbulent years following the Civil War, around 27,000 former slaves migrated to the land of John Brown. They called themselves “Exodusters” and they were refugees from Jim Crow laws and lynch mobs. Their journey came to be known as the “Great Exodus.”

“There seems to be a real interest from Black and Brown artists, to really look at historical figures and reimagine them or be able to uplift them in different ways,” Powers said. “I am not a practicing artist, but I imagine someone could have a field day with stories of these people taken from this historical narrative.”

Volunteer Mary Ann Brown, left, and Samantha Poirier, director of the Leavenworth County Historical Society, flipped through enlargements from negatives saved by Mary Everhard at the Carroll Mansion Museum. (Photo by Julie Denesha)

The photos would never have come to the public eye if not for the persistence of Mary Everhard, a photographer who moved to Leavenworth in the 1920s.

Everhard had a keen interest in history. As older photographers closed their doors, she bought up their archives.

Eventually, her collection took up an entire room, floor to ceiling, 40,000 negatives in all. Everhard guarded them for years, through two tornadoes, a flood and a fire.

“It’s such an incredible story,” said Mary Ann Brown, a volunteer at the Leavenworth County Historical Society “It’s hard to know even where to start with Miss Everhard.”

Brown is part of a team that’s been scanning Everhard’s negatives since 1998. She considers Everhard a folk hero — the woman who preserved decades of early Leavenworth history. But people didn’t always appreciate Everhard’s efforts.

Mary Ellen Everhard studied photography in New York City before moving to the Midwest in the 1920s to set up a studio in Leavenworth, Kansas. (Photo from Leavenworth County Historical Society)

“When she decided to retire, she went to the local banker and she wanted to know what she could get for these negatives,” Brown said. “And he said, Miss Everhard, you might as well just throw these in the Missouri River. They’re not worth anything.”

Thankfully, the negatives escaped a watery grave. A collector from Chicago purchased them in 1967. He sold off parts of the collection to different museums.

One of them was The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Today the Carter keeps around 6,000 of Everhard’s negatives in temperature-controlled vaults. The portraits on display at St. Joseph’s Black Archives Museum come from that collection.

“Even though photography is often talked about as one of the more democratic art forms, that still took a certain amount of money and a certain amount of access and standing to have an image taken,” said Kristen Gaylord, the museum’s assistant curator of photographs.

“A lot of Black Americans didn’t have that right away after the end of slavery,” she noted. “So especially the 19th Century images, I would say, are unusual, which is why they’re so valuable to us.”

Gaylord sees Mary Everhard as a woman ahead of her time.

“Not only was she a successful female photographer at the time, but she’s also the one who saw the need to conserve all these negatives,” she said.

The Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, California, also acquired a portion of the Everhard collection. In the late 1990s, the Leavenworth County Historical Society raised the funds to purchase 25,000 negatives from the Autry and return some of the images to the city where they started. They form the heart of the historical society’s photography collection — the one that Brown and fellow volunteers have been working on for years.

Thanks to Mary Everhard, the Chicago collector and those volunteers, the images that could have landed in the Missouri River now tell a story about early Leavenworth and the people who called it home.

And the exhibit at the Black Archives Museum in St. Joseph tells us that the story includes former Black residents of the South, who put down new roots in the state of Kansas.

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to
See more, including more historic photos, at

Blue Devils limited to five hits in two losses to Barton

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC sports information

Barton County pitchers slammed the door on Kansas City Kansas Community College hitters in sweeping a doubleheader Saturday.

The Blue Devils were limited to three hits in an opening 15-7 loss and just two singles in a 6-0 blanking in the nightcap. The loss left KCKCC 2-3 heading into Jayhawk Conference play at Butler County Thursday. The two teams then conclude the 4-game series at home Saturday.

The Blue Devils scored seven runs on just three hits in the15-7 opener. Palmer Hutchinson belted a two-run home run in the first inning, his second in two days. Caleb Adams singled in a run in a 3-run third and Braden Vawter doubled and scored in the eighth.

Barton jumped in front early, scoring four runs on four hits in the first and five runs on just one hit in the second. Alan Mercado gave up five hits and nine runs (three unearned) before Camden Karlin pitched 3.1 strong innings, allowing three hits, one run and striking out seven. Logan Bernard and Joseph Reyes finished up, each allowing two hits.

Camden Karlin and Cole Dawson had the only KCKCC hits in the 6-0 second game as just five Blue Devils reached base. Gabriel Ramos worked the first four innings, giving up four runs on four hits while striking out seven and walking three. Hunter Cashero pitched the final three innings, allowing two runs on three hits.

Home runs accounted for the first four Barton runs. Connor Scott hit a 2-run round tripper in the second; Conner Allen hammered his third home run in three games in the fourth; and Alex Rodgers had a solo blast in the fifth. Zach Johnson worked the first five innings for the win.

Basler pitches, bats Blue Devils to softball sweep

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC sports information

Kansas City Kansas Community College pounded out 15 hits in each game but still had to go extra innings for a softball sweep of Marshalltown Saturday.

Bradi Basler pitched a two-hitter in a 10-1 win in the opener and then singled in the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 9-8 win of the second game. The sweep boosted the Blue Devils to 4-0 heading into a doubleheader with No. 9-ranked Kirkwood Sunday.

KCKCC had an 8-3 lead heading into the seventh inning of the nightcap only to have the Bobcats rap out five straight hits to pull into an 8-8 deadlock. Devin Purcell led off the bottom of the eighth with a double – her fourth hit of the game – took third on a ground ball and scored the winning run on Basler’s single up the middle.

The hit made a winner out of freshman Breanna Droge, who pitched the first 5.1 innings, allowing three runs, five hits, striking out five and walking none. Droge re-entered in the seventh after Sammi Reynolds was touched for five runs. In addition to Purcell’s four hits, Basler tripled and singled, Jenna Daugherty and Hannah Maurer doubled and singled and Alana Howe singled twice.

The Blue Devils led only 2-0 before scoring eight runs in the fourth inning of the 5-inning opener. Basler faced just 17 hitters in four innings on the mound, striking out two and walking four. Nerida Elson pitched the fifth, striking out two.

Lindsey Gettle and Alexis Rymer each had three hits in the opener with Gettle driving in three runs. Madison Pope, Savannah Maynard and Howe each had two hits and drove in runs.

“This probably sounds silly with all the hits we had but I’d like to see us get more aggressive at the plate,” KCKCC coach Lana Ross said. “I just didn’t think we were that aggressive. We let the second game get out of control. On the positive side, (centerfielder) Devin Purcell and (shortstop) Savannah Maynard played unbelievably well on defense; both had great defensive games.” The Blue Devils were errorless in both games.