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Benjamin "Pap" Singleton - Leading the Exodusters

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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.

 

During the Civil War 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

Benjamin "Pap" Singleton

 

 

 

Nicodemus, Kansas 1885He 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 Site.

 

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 lived.

 

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 St. Louis, Missouri, businessman 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 Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated April, 2010.

 

Kansas Historic Book Collection - 35 Historic Books on CDKansas Historic Book Collection - 35 Historic Books on CD - The Historical Kansas Book Collection is a collection of 35 volumes relating to the history of Kansas and its people primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries. Several of the volumes have great period illustrations and portraits of relevant historical figures. Includes such titles as the History of Kansas (1899), History of Kansas Newspapers (1916), All five volumes of A Standard History of Kansas (1918), Pioneer Days in Kansas (1903), and dozens of others.

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