In the 1870s, thousands of African Americans fled the poverty and racial unrest that followed the American Civil War to homestead on the plains of Kansas. These migrants were known as the Exodusters. Some intended to create separate, self-sufficient agricultural communities that offered African Americans political autonomy. The Exodusters soon spread beyond Kansas into other Plains States, and eventually to Empire, Wyoming.
In 1912, Empire was a flourishing community of almost fifty individuals from several branches of the Speese and Taylor families. Each family worked to turn the arid plains into productive farmland through the use of dryland farming techniques. The community had its own post office and a Presbyterian church established by Reverend Russell Taylor. Taylor also administered the local public school.
Russell Taylor: Early Civil Rights Activist in Wyoming
The early 20th century was a low point for race relations in America, and Wyoming did not escape the turmoil. Between 1904 and 1920, five African Americans, including Russell Taylor's brother Baseman, were lynched by whites or killed by law enforcement. The residents of Empire were often denied service at restaurants and hotels in Torrington and encountered laws that enforced racial separation. The people of Empire, however, were
empowered through Taylor's leadership. Taylor used his education and role as a minister to advocate for his community though editorials and activism in local and state politics. He fought for the right to choose African American schoolteachers to act as role models for the children of Empire.