Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Jerome Tweten

Second Advisor

Dr. James Vivian

Third Advisor

Dr. Douglas Munski


African Americans were present throughout the duration of white settlement and have been involved in every stage of North Dakota's history from 1800 to 1940. However, historians generally have neglected the existence of black people in North Dakota's past. This study examined the participation by African Americans in North Dakota's social and economic history from 1800 to 1940. Further, the author explored the motivations for African Americans entering and settling in the state and the reasons why only slightly over two hundred black residents remained in 1940.

Chapter II centered on the movement of former slaves out of the "Black Belt" and their incentives for settling in northern and western states and territories, including North Dakota. Chapter III focused on the numerous ways in which African Americans contributed to the growth of northern Dakota Territory before 1889. Black people entered the territory through various means: the fur trade, explorations, the military, steamboats, the cattle trade, and as homesteaders.

The fourth chapter continued the theme of the previous chapter into the first fifty years of statehood. During these years, the black population witnessed a slow increase followed by a sharp decline during the drought and depression years of the 1920s and 1930s. Many African Americans were employed in low-paying and menial jobs, such as laborers, porters, barbers, and servants. Limited economic opportunities, a weak black community, and a lack of social services forced most black residents out of the state by 1940.

Chapter V examined whether anti-black prejudice existed in North Dakota from 1860 to 1940. Despite the hope of economic and social betterment in North Dakota, black people discovered that they could not avoid racism even in North Dakota. Local media, organizations, and institutions contributed to pre-existing sentiments of bias against African Americans. Segregation, stereotypes, and suspicion display ed the various aspects of discrimination that black people encountered in North Dakota.

This thesis serves as a beginning in expanding North Dakota's history to include all of the state's rich melange of races and cultures. Only through the study of African Americans and other often neglected ethnic groups will the history of North Dakota be complete.

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