Black history lives on in South Dakota

Published: Feb. 28, 2019 at 10:38 PM MST
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A small but mighty number are the African Americans who have made a stamp on history in "Dakota Territory" or what many know now as South Dakota.

Figures like Sarah Campbell, the first African American person and first non-Indian woman to come into Dakota Territory, getting here through the Custer Expedition of 1874.

"Usually the military came, and trappers came and even Lewis and Clark came, and with Lewis and Clark there was Sacajawea, but with Custer, there was Sarah Campbell," said Joyce Jefferson, who reenacts Campbell.

"Aunt Sally" was fortunate to get her hand on the thing that brought everyone to the Hills at the time.

"She was one of the first women to have claim for a gold mine and she got that on the expedition right along with other people who had this illegal claim," Jefferson said.

Even after she died, Campbell remained a staple in the era.

"Year's later after she had passed away there were people who in order to validate that they were with Custer, if they didn't know that Sarah Campbell or Aunt Sally was there, then they were lying," Jefferson continued.

Nearly two decades later, another African American by the name of Cleveland Abbott was born in Yankton, SD in 1894. He turned out to be instrumental in changing the world of athletics.

"This child brought up with a South Dakota put idea he could do anything would find ways to create possibilities for young men and women not allowed to dream," said Bruce Danielson, a South Dakotan who researched and presented on Abbott

Abbott earned 16 athletic letters in every sport available at Watertown High School and 14 at what is now South Dakota State University.

"South Dakota gave Cleveland Abbott opportunities and experiences he would not have had growing up in the deep south," Danielson continued.

Abbot was recognized as an officer in the WW1 Buffalo Soldiers as a respected leader of men and went on to be a successful football player, coach, and educator, helping to establish the sports program at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama alongside black pioneer Booker T Washington himself.

South Dakota has one of the fastest growing black populations in the nation. According to Homesnacks, a data collection site that looks at community statistics, the Black population in South Dakota is 13,679 – sitting at 1.6% of the total population of South Dakota.

More prominent achievements are inevitably on the horizon.

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