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HE WAS ONCE A SLAVE

Posted by Lin Fredericksen on Feb 12, 2010

Benjamin "Pap" Singleton was an escaped slave who returned to Tennessee after emancipation and helped promote the migration of African Americans from the south to Kansas after the Civil War. Because of the efforts of Singleton and others like him, Kansas became a mecca in the late 1870s for former slaves who were unable to acquire land and make a living in the South. These migrants were called “Exodusters.” Singleton testified before the U.S. Senate on April 17, 1880, that he had helped organize the migration of nearly 7500 blacks to Kansas, mostly by circulating flyers throughout the south like the one pictured here, which is  preserved in the Singleton scrapbook at the Kansas Historical Society (see our March 20, 2009 Kansas Memory blog for more information). 

After the "Exodus" ended, Singleton lived for many years in Kansas City, Missouri, and was honored for his work to improve the lives of black people. It is unclear why, but over time, 1892 became  accepted as his year of death, though the exact date and place was unknown.  Fortunately, the recent digitization of vital records at the Missouri State Archives has made it much easier to locate early death information for Kansas City for genealogical and historical research. Those records show that Singleton actually lived until February 17, 1900.  A search of the the Kansas City Star newspaper on microfilm at the Kansas Historical Society yielded this notice published on Sunday, February 18th:

Festival honoring Singleton

"HE WAS ONCE A SLAVE

Death of an Old Negro Who Once Belonged to General Shelby.

 Benjamin Singleton, a former slave, who always boasted that he was once owned by General Jo Shelby's father, died yesterday afternoon at 923 West Eighth street, at the age of 91 years.  When Singleton was a boy he rode horses at country races.  He was never a good slave because he was always running away from his master.  After the war he was instrumental in getting a band of negroes to leave the South for the Northern states.  He is said to have written a book of his slave days which is in the possession of the Kansas Historical society."

 We're assuming that the "book" the newspaper mentions is the scrapbook that Singleton donated.  And we're hoping, now that the date and place of Singleton's death is known, the mystery of where his grave is located can be solved as well.


Comments on "HE WAS ONCE A SLAVE"

Comment written by: tcoble on Feb 16, 2010 -- Permalink | Suggest Removal

Fascinating!

Comment written by: jimsharp on Sep 17, 2012 -- Permalink | Suggest Removal

Great historical information on "Paps" Singleton, a man I consider among the top 10 famous Kansans.
He lived at Dunlap in my home county (Morris) when called to testify before the US Senate in 1880. When Kansas Country Living Magazine reviewed my book "Black Settlers on the Kaw Indian Reservation" they called it "Lost in History" as few people knew what took place there.
Hundreds of settlers came from the south and settled on more 15 thousand acres of land but none reside there today--but some still own land.


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