The primary leader of the migration of
Exodusters to Kansas,
Singleton was born a slave in Nashville, Tennessee in 1809, but throughout
his life, was determined to be free. He was trained as a cabinet maker and
was sold as a slave several times, but always managed to escape. Eventually,
he fled to Canada, then settled in Detroit, Michigan, where he ran a
boardinghouse that frequently sheltered runaway slaves.
years, he left Detroit and returned to Nashville, which was under Union Army
occupation. Living in a large Union camp for fugitive slaves, he made a
living building cabinets and coffins. While peddling his products in the
late 1860s, Singleton became convinced that it was his mission to help his
people improve their lives, And began to urge them to acquire farmland in
Tennessee. However, whites would not sell productive land to them and he
soon took up another tactic, preaching to them to go west to farm and own
federal homestead lands.
Benjamin "Pap" Singleton
He began scouting land in Kansas
in the early 1870s and returned to south to organize parties
to colonize in Kansas.
In 1873 nearly 300 African Americans followed him to Cherokee
County and founded "Singleton's Colony." Soon, others would
settle in Wyandotte, Shawnee and Lyon County. By 1874,
Singleton and his associates had formed the Edgefield Real
Estate and Homestead Association in Tennessee, which steered
more than 20,000 black migrants to Kansas
between 1877 and 1879. In 1877, the most famous of the
“all-black” towns of Kansas
Nicodemus was colonized, which is today a National Historic
Many of those who came were
unprepared and soon left the area, leaving in their wake,
dozens of ghost towns. But, for those who stayed, they
improved the quality of their lives and made important
contributions to the state and the communities in which they
In 1880, Singleton was called to
testify before Congress regarding the alarming migration of
blacks from the South.
In 1881, he used his reputation to
bring together blacks into an organization called the Colored
United Links in Topeka, Kansas.
The objective was to combine the financial resources of all
African-Americans to build black-owned businesses, factories,
and trade schools. The organization was successful enough that
Presidential candidate, James B. Weaver of the Greenback
Party, met with the group to discuss combining the two groups.
However, membership faltered and the organization soon fell
apart after 1881.
After the failure of the Colored United Links,
Singleton became convinced that blacks would never be allowed to succeed in the
United States. In 1883, he joined up with
Joseph Ware and black minister John Williams in proposing that blacks migrate to
the Mediterranean island of Cyprus; however, this idea was short-lived.
In 1885 Singleton moved to Kansas City where he
organized the United Transatlantic Society with the goal of having all blacks
relocate from the United States to Africa. Though the group lasted until 1887,
it never managed to send anyone to Africa. Finally, his health deteriorating,
Singleton retired from his life of activism. However, he spoke up one final time
in 1889 when the call was raised for a portion of the newly opening Oklahoma
Territory to be reserved as an all-black state. Benjamin Singleton died in 1892
and the location of his grave is unknown.
Compiled and edited by
of Kansas, updated April, 2010.