Empire, Wyoming was a Black American community founded in 1908

By greatbritton

Empire, Wyoming was an Black community founded in 1908 by Charles and Rosetta Speese along with three of Charles’ brothers—John, Joseph and Radford and their families. John’s brother-in-law, Baseman Taylor, and relative, Otis Taylor joined the settlement as well. The families moved from Nebraska. After selling their land in Nebraska and a $10,000 inheritance from an the Speese’s uncle, Josiah Webb. They bought  800 acres of land near Torrington, Wyoming on the Nebraska-Wyoming state line. The land would later be named Empire, Wyoming.

Residents of Empire established their own public school by 1909 with the help of a Wyoming law that said school districts could build a separate facility with fifteen or more non-white school-aged children. The school was assigned Sallie Thistle, a young black teacher from Cheyenne, who lived with one of the Speese families.

In 1911, Baseman’s brother Russell Taylor, an ordained minister and teacher, moved to Empire with his wife, ten children, and mother-in-law, becoming the community’s leader as a teacher, preacher, and postmaster. Empire’s population reached almost fifty citizens at this point. The settlement at its peak would have sixty-five black-owned farms.

A post office was started in Empire in 1912 which in 1916 was replaced by a new larger building for the already established Grace Presbyterian Church. Although it was an all-black community, all businesses in Empire were open to the general public with no regard to race despite segregation in laws in the ‘Equality State’.

Empire farmers, with no access to irrigation, were forced to use dryland farming techniques. Joseph Speese, however, experienced success with potatoes, the primary crop in Empire. Townspeople said he “raised more Irish potatoes than many of the farmers under irrigation.” He also grew sweet corn, popcorn, millet, cucumbers, muskmelon, and field peas that all won blue ribbons at the Goshen county fair.

Racism would prove to big a challenge during 1904 – 1920 five Black men were lynched in Wyoming.

When neighboring white farmers discovered something missing, the black community was blamed. Torrington courts were prejudiced as well prompting John Speese to become an attorney for Empire’s citizens.

Black Americans who founded and later migrated to Empire hoped to secure political and civil rights in an economically self-sufficient community as well as safety and security for themselves and their families free from racism. Wyoming at that time provided neither safety nor security. By 1920, the population had declined to twenty-three and by 1930, only four blacks remained in Empire, Wyoming.

Source: Rawlings-Carroll, R. (2019, June 29). Empire, Wyoming (1908-1930). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/empire-wyoming-1908-1930/

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