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In 1908 Charles and Rosetta Speese founded the African American homesteader community of Empire when they moved to Goshen County’s Sheep Creek Valley, about fifty miles east from here. Under the Enlarged Homestead Act, they claimed 320 acres of public land. Otis, Baseman, and Nathan Taylor’s families soon joined the Speeses. By 1911 more Black settlers had followed, raising the overall population to perhaps as many as sixty. By 1929, ten Black homesteaders had received patents for 2,741 acres.

 

Reverend Russel Taylor homesteaded in Empire with his wife Henrietta and their children in 1911.  Russel Taylor quickly became Empire’s most distinguished citizen. He established and led the Empire school, obtained a post office for the community, and served as pastor for Grace Presbyterian Church. 

 

Empire residents were victims of several racially-charged local disputes, including the murder of Baseman Taylor while in the custody of the county sheriff. Their community broke into factions, and their farms produced meager results in the dry, unforgiving climate. By 1920 Empire had largely emptied. 

 

Empire remains a powerful reminder of the struggles and achievements of African Americans who migrated to the plains seeking land, education, and civil rights.

 

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