Our friend Judy Sweets in Lawrence helped uncover the Kansas City grave site of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton. He spent his last days in Kansas City and is believed to be buried in an unmarked grave at the Union Cemetery in KC. He had escaped slavery in the South before Emancipation. Benjamin Singleton became known as the Black Moses who led newly free persons from the South to a new life in Kansas after the Civil War. A 1972 film staring Sidney Poitier and Harry Belefonte titled Buck and the Preacher (click on the link to see a you tube clip) dramatizes this story.
I hear there is a movement working to commemorate his accomplishments and mark his grave. Stay tuned for more info on this exciting development.
By 1879 the “Great Exodus” began. About 50,000 former slaves wanted to go north and west to the free land in Kansas. They became known as known as Exodusters. Federal troops had left the south and former slave masters regained political majority. Part of Topeka, Kansas, was known as “Tennessee Town” because of many migrants from that state. White Kansans objected to this migration and Pap Singleton became a significant protector of the Exodusters’ right to try to make better lives in the American West.
In 1880 Southern congressmen started an investigation into this migration in an attempt to stem the tide of former slaves north. They requested Pap Singleton appear before the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., to testify on the causes of the Great Exodus to Kansas. He testified about setting up independent black colonies and illustrated in graphic terms the terrible conditions causing the freedmen to leave the South. Singleton returned to Kansas as a nationally recognized spokesman for the Exodusters. Unfortunately, the arrival of so many poor blacks put more of a financial burden on the Dunlap Colony than the original settlers could bear. By 1880, the Presbyterian Church had taken charitable control of the settlement and made plans to build a Freedmen’s Academy in the town. Singleton had no more dealings with his colony at Dunlap.
Below is an excerpt from his testimony on former slaves emigrating to Kansas. Click here to see the entire testimony
Washington, D. C., April 17, 1880
before the Senate Select Committee Investigating
the “Negro Exodus from the Southern States”
Benjamin Singleton (colored) sworn and examined.
By Mr. Windom:
Question. Where were you born, Mr. Singleton?
Answer. I was born in the State of Tennessee, sir.
Q. Where do you now live?
A. In Kansas.
Q. What part of Kansas?
A. I have a colony sixty miles from Topeka, sir.
Q. Which way from Topeka — west?
A. Yes, sir; sixty miles from Topeka, west.
Q. What is your colony called?
A. Singleton colony is the name of it, sir.
Q. How long has it been since you have formed that colony?
A. I have two colonies in Kansas — one in Cherokee County, and one in Lyon, Morris County.
Q. When did you commence the formation of that colony — the first one?
A. I was in 1875, perhaps.