The Wyoming State Museum's traveling exhibit on black homesteaders, "Empire: A Community of African-Americans on the Wyoming Plains" is on display now at the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne. Founded in 1908, Empire was a black community about ten miles northeast of Torrington, and about a mile past the Nebraskan border.
Former slave families settled here in an attempt to build a self-sufficient community, but drought, poor agricultural returns, and racial hostility from neighboring towns caused Empire to all but disappear in less than two decades.
The exhibit will tell the stories of these formerly enslaved homesteaders. "Several years ago the Laramie County Library decided to highlight black history in January and February of 2020…this exhibit fit in perfectly with our overall project," said Jennifer Rif, the museum's exhibitions supervisor.
Rif said she believes this dark part of the state's history should not be forgotten and hopes it helps illuminate Wyoming's complex past.
"Our history is very complicated and it's a part of our history that we don't necessarily understand as being such an impactful part of our state's history along with our country's history."
The library currently has about 1,000 visitors coming through the building every day. Rif said it's a great opportunity to generate an interest and a discussion about African American history in the West. The exhibit will be on display until February 18.
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