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Benjamin "Pap" Singleton

Benjamin Singleton

Father of the African American exodus. Born: 1809, Nashville, Tennessee. Died: February 17, 1900, in Kansas City, Missouri.

He was born a slave in 1809, but after 37 years of bondage Benjamin Singleton escaped to freedom. He made Detroit his home and operated a secret boardinghouse for other escaped slaves. Following emancipation, Singleton returned to his native Tennessee.

After the Civil War, African Americans in the South enjoyed the rights and privileges of American citizenship. But when the federal troops were removed, their rights were no longer secure. The Ku Klux Klan emerged to strike terror and death to Blacks who refused to submit to their will. A sharecropping system virtually re-enslaved Black tenant farmers.

Because Kansas was famous for John Brown's efforts and its struggle against slavery, Singleton considered the state a new Canaan, and he, like a "Black Moses," would lead his people to the promised land. Singleton traveled through the South organizing parties to colonize in Kansas. Singleton distributed promotional posters and handbills which touted “Sunny Kansas” as “one of the finest countries for a poor man in the world,” with “plenty of stone and water, and wood on the streams.” One poster described, “large tracts of land, peaceful homes and firesides, undisturbed by any one.” 

Between 1877 and 1879 nearly 300 African Americans followed him to Kansas. Some lived in "Singleton's Colony" in Cherokee County.  Others settled in Wyandotte, in Topeka's Tennessee Town, and in Dunlap Colony near present Emporia. Singleton advocated the organized colonization of blacks in communities in Kansas and testified about the "Exodusters" before a committee of the U.S. Congress in 1880.

A second wave of nearly 20,000 African Americans came to Kansas in 1879 and 1880. Unlike the first groups of immigrants that had resources and arrived in smaller organized groups, these “Exodusters” had no money and they arrived daily by the hundreds. The communities in which they tried to settle were already struggling economically and were not prepared for such a spike in population. The communities appealed to the state government for assistance, resulting in the creation of the Kansas Freedmen’s Relief Association in 1879. The mission of the KFRA was to collect and distribute resources for struggling African Americans in Kansas. Though many African Americans came unprepared, most who remained were able to improve the quality of their lives and made important contributions to the state and the communities in which they lived.

Known affectionately as "Pap," Benjamin Singleton died in 1900. Through his last years he took great comfort and pride in the role in played as "Father of the Negro Exodus."

Entry: Singleton, Benjamin "Pap"

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2004

Date Modified: June 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.