Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

SINGLETON, PAP (1809-1892)

Benjamin "Pap" Singleton planted black separatist colonies in Kansas and distinguished himself as a spokesperson for the "Exodusters." Born into slavery in Davidson County near Nashville, Tennessee, Singleton escaped in 1846 to Detroit, Michigan, where he helped fugitives find refuge in Canada. After the Civil War he returned to Nashville, but the growing pervasiveness of segregation, black codes, and lynching violence soon convinced him that African Americans could not trust elected officials to safeguard citizenship rights in the South. In 1874 he banded with eight associates and organized the Edgefield Real Estate and Homestead Association to encourage a cooperative migration to the Kansas plains.

The group held an emigration convention in 1875, but poverty and conflicting reports about the suitability of the Great Plains for settlement prevented them from making an immediate move. In late 1876, however, Singleton agreed to bring settlers to railroad land in Cherokee County in southeastern Kansas, and in early 1877 African American colonists began arriving to build the Singleton Colony north of Baxter Springs. High land prices ensured the colony's rapid demise, so in 1878 Singleton redirected his attention toward the unsold Kansas Reservation trust lands in Morris and Lyon Counties and planted a second Singleton Colony around the village of Dunlap. While the second colony survived and became home to the Presbyterian Church's Freedmen's Academy of Dunlap, Kansas, the 1879 arrival of the Exodusters diverted Singleton away from western colonization and pushed him toward the goal of national race unity.

Singleton became a self-appointed spokesperson for the Exodusters and in 1880 declared during testimony before the U.S. Senate that he was the father of the entire migration. In 1881 he capitalized on his newly won fame by organizing the Colored United Links (CUL) in Topeka, Kansas, which he hoped would grow to unite African Americans across the United States in the cooperative development of black-owned industrial enterprises and educational facilities. The CUL never expanded far beyond its Plains headquarters and soon fell into decline. Singleton devoted his remaining years to organizing or speaking out on behalf of separatist and colonization movements like Kansas City's United Transatlantic Society. In 1889 Singleton raised his voice for the final time when he advised African Americans to migrate to the Southern Plains and help turn part of the Oklahoma Territory into an all-black state. He reportedly died in St. Louis in 1892.

Gary R. Entz McPherson College

Entz, Gary R. "Image and Reality on the Kansas Prairie: 'Pap' Singleton's Cherokee County Colony." Kansas History 19 (1996): 124–39.

Hickey, Joseph V. "'Pap' Singleton's Dunlap Colony: Relief Agencies and the Failure of a Black Settlement in Eastern Kansas." Great Plains Quarterly 11 (1991): 23–36.

Painter, Nell Irvin. Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986.

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