by Adib Rashad ~
Immigration to the United States has, for the most part, been regarded
with mixed emotions. This was particularly true with respect to the
immigrants that came from Eastern and Southern Europe. As a result, of this
immigration, the racist Eugenics Movement was established; the Eugenics
Movement declared that the new immigrants were genetically inferior to the
Nordic or Anglo-Saxons.
Such racist propaganda led to the passage of strongly racist legislation.
The most important, that is from the standpoint of the advocates, was the
Immigration Restrictive Act of 1924 (The Johnson Act). Needles to say, that
these racist laws referred to people of color with an even greater degree of
Interestingly, there was another type of emigration that was steeped in
ambivalence and racism, and that was the migration of Southern African
Americans to Northern, Midwestern, and other states that African Americans
regarded as racist free.
Before I continue discussing the issue of "Black, or African American
migration" and its historical significance, I should establish the
historical foundation for this subject by pointing out that the political,
economic, and social system of the U. S. south was deeply rooted in slave
labor. Ironically, over the first half of the 19th century, this inhuman
system came into conflict with an alliance of economic and social forces in
the North and what is today the Midwest (It was the Northwest at that time).
The industrial powers of the North clashed continuously with the slave
owning powers. Paradoxically, the slave owning powers had captured growing
control over the policies of the U. S. Government. The interests of the
Northern factory owners, which was contrary to the slave owners, were
enhanced by the expansion of wage labor, by high tariffs to protect their
emerging industries, and by the expansion of an internal market for consumer
goods based among the growing farm population in the newly opened
territories to the West.
Farmers viewed the slave owners as a hindrance and threat to their way of
life. Workers and craftsmen from the Northeast, and small farmers with too
little land to sustain a decent living, had moved west to stake out
As I pointed out earlier, a large number of European immigrants came to
this country seeking to escape miserable economic conditions and hoping to
establish a land base. It was this kind of push for land that motivated the
farmers, wage earners, and newly arrived immigrants to halt the westward
encroachment of the slave system.
Undoubtedly, the slave system was the greatest danger to the rights of
wage earners and farmers. Therefore, the Civil War was the culmination of
the struggle between the forces of free labor and free soil.
The Southern oligarchy--with its 300, 000 or more slaveholders--wanted to
extend slavery westward (including California) and ultimately to make
themselves the dominant political and economic power in the country. It
must be said the above contending factors were the underlying cause of the
According to W. E. B. DuBois, the fugitive slave law of 1850 vastly
extended Federal power so as to nullify state rights in the North. The
compromise of 1850 permitted the extension of slavery into the territories,
and the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 deprived Congress of the right to
prohibit slavery anywhere. This opened the entire west to slavery. War
followed in Kansas. Slaveholders went boldly into Kansas, armed and
In actuality the Civil War began before 1861. It was the 1854-56 battle
between pro-slavery and antislavery forces in Kansas which acted as a
prelude to the Civil War of 1861.
The Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 placed, from a legal standpoint, slavery
and free labor on an equal and contentious level.
Interacting historical forces tend to produce significant historical
events. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill not only forced pro and antislavery
advocates to fight, but it also produced the Republican Party which
initially acted as a relief organization. And, of course, it produced the
greatest Caucasian liberator of all time, John Brown, it was in Kansas that
Brown won national recognition.
Democratic President, James Buchannan tried to include Kansas in the
states of the union as a slave state with a slave constitution; this was
after the attempt to transform Kansas into a slave territory by force had
failed. Certainly, it was the political machinery in Washington that
allowed the pro-slavery forces--with the support of Buchannan--to keep
Kansas out of the union as a free state. Ironically, it became part of the
union in 1861.
Similarly, the Washington political machinery, and the Supreme Court,
sided with the slave owners with regard to the Dred Scott Decision in 1857.
Dred Scott was a slave who had lived for four years in the non-slave states
of Illinois and Wisconsin. He had bought a lawsuit in 1848 to win his
freedom. The court ruled that "Negroes had rights which the white man was
bound to respect."
Chief Justice Roger Taney declared that Negroes could not rightfully
become citizens of the United States, since the words of the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution were never meant to include Negroes.
Hence, slaveholders had the right to take with them into any territory any
"property" recognized by the Constitution--that is, their slaves.
I repeat it was these emotional issues and their sub-components that
produced the bloodiest war in United States history.
I would be remiss by not identifying another incident that paved the way
to the aforementioned laws. This incident was the rebellion on the slave
ship "Creole." This rebellion gave rise to a congressional inquiry in which
the right of the United States to exercise authority over slaves on the high
seas was questioned. Slaves numbering one hundred and thirty-four
overpowered the officers of the ship, killed one, and directed the ship to
the British port, Nassau.
The leader of this revolt was Madison Washington. He had made his escape
from slavery in Virginia to Canada. However, on returning to rescue his
wife he was captured in the South for sale.
When proslavery forces in Congress tried to have these slaves returned to
their masters on the ground that they were legally held at the time of their
departure, Senator Charles Sumner insisted that the slaves be made free,
when taken by the "voluntary action" of their owners beyond the jurisdiction
of the slave states.
Note: (Charles Sumner also wrote a legal brief for desegregated schools in
1849, which was the forerunner to the 1954 Supreme Court decision).
On the other hand, Daniel Webster, Secretary of State, contended that
inasmuch as slaves were recognized as property by the Constitution of the
United States, where slavery existed, their presence on the high seas did
not effect a change in their slave status.
To counteract this position Joshua Giddings, an antislavery member of
Congress, offered in connection with this case in 1842 resolutions to the
effect that "Slavery, being an abridgment of the natural rights of man, can
exist only by force or positive municipal law." As a result of this
resolution, proslavery politicians managed to censure Giddings. He resigned
and appealed to his constituents; they returned him to office with a large
majority of votes. Joshua R. Giddings of Ohio, was the earliest
From the politics and economics of slavery, the Civil War began and raged
for four years. Some 186,000 Blacks enlisted in the Union Army.
Interestingly, 52,000 were from free states. At least 38,000 Black soldiers
died to save the Republic and to put an end to the heinous institution of
After the Civil War, the radical reconstruction period was born. Blacks
and Caucasians drew up constitutions, approved the Fourteenth and Fifteenth
Amendments, returned their states to the Union, and elected progressive men
During reconstruction, there were Black sheriffs, mayors, judges, and
representatives in the South. From 1870 to 1901 twenty-two Blacks served
their states as Congressmen. Southern Blacks sat in every Congress from the
41st to the 56th with one exception. They were all brilliant men and superb
This period ushered in a new found hope for the freedmen and the destitute
Caucasians. However, the progressive reconstruction governments were unable
to halt those who sought to use governmental power for personal gain.
Pilfering and corruption was practiced by some reconstruction officials; but
it must said, and it has been documented, that Blacks did not initiate this
practice. As a matter of fact, they benefited the least from it.
The Tweed Ring in New York, along with Northern Carpetbaggers, Southern
Scalawags, and Democrats were able to steal far more than the freedmen and
progressive Caucasians could ever hope to do.
The insidious "white supremacists" utilized this issue of theft to the
very maximum extent. They, in their desire to restore the mantle of white
racist dogma, exaggerated the alleged corruption and incompetence of the
As the 1870s moved on, and Southern State after Southern passed out of the
hands of the reconstruction politicians--some might refer to them as
statesmen--Black people thought more and more about migration. It was
typical for Blacks to move out of a state after that state had been lost to
As a rule, this movement remained within the South, but some of it spilled
out into the North or the West.
The first major exodus explosion occurred in January and February of 1879,
and was centered in, though not confined to, Southern Louisiana. A number
of factors contributed to this movement. A bad crop, a devastating yellow
fever epidemic, an unsuccessful effort on the part of Black tenants to force
a reduction in rent, widespread disenfranchisement, absence of educational
facilities, and extreme violence. These factors produced--after years of
careful planning and preparation--an exodus which saw something like 50,000
Blacks move north within a few months. Most of these men, women, and
children headed for Kansas, the land of old John Brown, the most radical,
Caucasian, antislavery liberator of all time.
Two Black men who succeeded in organizing large mass migrations to Kansas
were Henry Adams of Louisiana and Benjamin "Pap" Singleton of Tennessee.
Typical, traditional American history has it that this exodus, or mass
migration was somewhat spontaneous, and was initiated by Benjamin Singleton.
However, the above information and other social factors prove otherwise.
Pap Singleton, no doubt, played an enormous role in this aspect of African
Singleton grew old in slavery; whereas Adams was still a young man when he
was freed at the end of the Civil War. Adams came to maturity during
radical reconstruction, and he served in the United States Army. His army
experience hardened his desire to see Blacks secure their citizenship
Despite the fact that Pap Singleton and Adams had very similar interests
insofar as Black people and their freedom from tyranny was concerned, they
were otherwise very dissimilar men. Much of the dissimilarities can be
attributed to their age difference; Adams was thirty-six in 1879 and
Singleton was seventy years old.
I am, however, more concerned about Pap Singleton, since he is/was
considered one of the major forces behind the exodus, or migration to
Kansas. As a carpenter, and coffin maker in Nashville, he made coffins for
a number of Blacks who had been the victims of racially inspired violence.
He was emotionally moved by the unending violence of Caucasians against
Blacks that typified conditions in the post war south.
There were two incidents that left an indelible mark on his mind; he made
this comment about the emotional impact: "Julia Haven, I made the outside
box and her coffin, in Smith County, Tennessee. And another young colored
lady I know, about my color, they committed an outrage on her and then shot
her, and I helped myself to make the outside box."
Sparked with the belief that God had given him the mission of taking Black
people to the promised land, Pap Singleton, in 1870, went to Kansas to
gather information on homesteading.
In 1873 Pap Singleton visited southeastern Kansas and discovered that the
lands that had formerly been Cherokee reservations would suffice as
homesteads for Tennessee Blacks.
According to historical records, he began conveying families to the
Singleton colony in Cherokee County in the early 1870s. It is open to
question as to whether this movement advanced before the middle of the
Nonetheless, it is certain that he did not begin making serious inquiries
of the state government until 1876. In August of 1874 he wrote the governor
of Tennessee declaring that the Black people of that state wanted to
purchase land over a period of time because they lacked the capital to
purchase farms outright. He asked if any aid was available for their
transportation and settlement. He pointed out that hard times was the
reason for wanting to go to Kansas; he said that thousands were ready to
make the exodus (migration). He spoke of the proposed movement in this
manner: "My people, for the want of land--we needed land for our
children--and their disadvantages--that caused my heart to grieve and
sorrow; pity for my race, sir, that was coming down, instead, of going
up--that caused me to go to work for them. I sent out Kansas perhaps in
1866--perhaps so; or in 65, any way--my memory don't recollect which; and
they brought back tolerable favorable reports; then I jacked up three or
four hundred and went into Kansas, and I formed a colony there, and bought
about a thousand acres of ground--the colony did--my people."
In 1878 Benjamin Pap Singleton worked by way of the Edgefield Real Estate
and Homestead Association encouraged Blacks that he would personally escort
them to the Cherokee County Colony. During 1877 and 1878, the Edgefield
Real Estate Association sponsored mass meetings and encouraged support for
its migrationist cause. Singleton was always the chairman of the meetings
and used these occasions to try to awaken the race "to a sense of their
duty." He stressed peace and goodwill to all mankind, but he said that
"peace and time have met together and kissed each other, and it is now high
time to be looking after the downtrodden of our race."
Singleton in 1869 formed in Nashville the Tennessee Real Estate and the
Homestead Association and from that date to the 1880s, he assisted some
7,000 Blacks in leaving the deep South. In June 1879 he and other Blacks
incorporated the Singleton Colony of Morris and Lyon Counties, Kansas, which
became one of the many centers to which the migrants moved.
Pap Singleton interpreted his role as an instrument of God in a sense that
transcended the issue of migration. He saw himself as a vessel that would
bring peace to the South. He needed and wanted to show Southern Caucasians
that they must live with their Black neighbors in tranquility. He said he
had prayed for peace and hoped and prayed that Caucasians would mend their
ways toward Blacks. He made this statement: "I have talked about this, and
called a convention, and tried to harmonize things and promote the spirit of
conciliation, and to do everything that could be done in the name of God.
Why, I have prayed to the Almighty when it appeared to me an imposition
before heaven to pray for them."
He continued by stating the following: "I have taken my people out in the
roads and in the dark places, and looked to the stars of heaven and prayed
for racial peace."
It was common knowledge that Southern Caucasians did not take heed to
Singleton's spiritual exhortations. As a matter fact, the exodus
(migration) of 1879 came to a dramatic end because of the political pressure
against it. Blacks accepted the harsh reality that racial prejudice was
pervasive throughout the United States.
Moreover, the Federal Government and state governments refused to take steps
to provide land, jobs, or loans to permit the migrants to begin a new life.
This did not dissuade Singleton from continuing to work on behalf of his
people. He supported many organizations that promoted emigration
policies--within the United States or to Africa--and he maintained a
demeanor that bespoke of affability and earnestness.
Like so many of our historical personalities Pap Singleton has not
received continuous analytical historical and recognition that he deserves.
A former slave, and a man of seventy plus years, who refused to allow age
and what is usually associated with it to deter him from his noble vision
Visionaries in the truest sense of the word are in their own ways
revolutionaries. Revolutionaries. in their own ways make changes in a
manner that is apropos to their situation.
Singleton made a change that was both apropos and conducive to his
situation and his peoples' plight.
What I found extremely remarkable about Pap was his veracity and his
unyielding determination to pave a path to, what he considered, the promised
land for his people.
As I stated earlier, there were certain historical dynamics that were in
motion prior to Singleton's emergence. However, Singleton, voluntarily
allowed himself to be enveloped in that dynamism.
Similar to other African American historical figures, he guided his
emotional concerns in such a practical manner that history could not
completely obliterate him.
There is much to be said about Benjamin "Pap" Singleton and the subject of
Black emigration, but for now, in addition to what I have said, I will
simply say "Salute."
1. Marx and Engels on the United States (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1979)
2. W. E. B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 (Antheneum
Books, New York, 1977) p. 42.
3. John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom (Alfred A. Knopf, New York,
1963) pp. 261-263.
4. Howard Zinn, A People's History the United States (Harper Colophon
Books: Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1980) p. 178.
5. Carter G. Woodson, The Negro in Our History (Associated Publishers,
Inc., Washington, D. C., 1972) pp. 347-349.
6. William Loren Katz, Eyewitness The Negro in American History (Pittman
Publishing Corporation, New York, 1967) pp. 260-261.
7. Herbert Aptheker, A Documentary History of the Negro People in the
United States (Citadel Press, New York, 1968) p. 713.
8. Senate Report 693, 46th Congress, 2nd Session, part two, pp. 290-294 &
9. Peter Cameo, Racism, Revolution, Reaction, 1862-1877 (Monad Press Books,
Published by Pathfinder Press, New York, 1976) p. 200.
10. Robert G. Athern, In Search of Canaan Black Migration to Kansas,
1879-1889 (Regents Press, Kansas, 1978) pp. 202-214.
Adib Rashad (RashadM@aol.com) is an education consultant, education
program director, author, and historian. He has lived and taught in
West Africa and South East Asia.
This article was previously published by theMarcusGarveyBBS (an entity of TheBlackList)
and TheBlackList at http://lists.topica.com/lists/TheBlackList/read