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Scholarly Essays

Seeking the Promised Land: African American Migrations to Kansas

An essay by ,
University of Kansas
Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a former slave from Tennessee, became known as the leader of the “Exoduster Movement.”
With the promise of freedom and new economic and educational opportunities, Kansas attracted many African Americans in its territorial days, through statehood, and into the 20th century. Slavery existed in the Kansas Territory, but slave holdings were small compared to the South. Many black migrants also came to the territory as hired laborers, while some traveled as escaped slaves through the Underground Railroad. In the 1860s, others joined the Union Army, and some moved from the South in large groups during the Kansas Exodus, a mass migration of freedpeople during the 1870s and 1880s. As a territory that had a long and violent history of pre-Civil War contests over slavery, Kansas emerged as the “quintessential free state” and seemed like a promised land for African Americans who searched for what they called a “New Canaan.”