William Henry Singleton’s Resistance to Slavery: Overt and Covert


In this lesson, students will learn that enslaved people resisted their captivity constantly. Because they were living under the domination of their masters, slaves knew that direct, outright, overt resistance—such as talking back, hitting their master or running away––could result in being whipped, sold away from their families and friends, or even killed. Nonetheless, the regular appearance of runaway slave advertisements in newspapers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries demonstrates that despite the high likelihood and dire consequences of being caught, many enslaved people attempted to run away. Most enslaved people, however, resisted their captivity in ways that were covert or concealed, masked, and hidden.

William Henry Singleton was born into slavery in 1843 in New Bern, North Carolina, and ran away from his master several times. When he was only six or seven years old, he ran all the way from Atlanta to the North Carolina plantation where his mother lived. Singleton also resisted slavery by pretending to be ignorant, by hiding, and by assisting and serving in the Union Army.

Video, Boy Runaway

Through watching a short video, and reading selected excerpts from his narrative, students will explore how enslaved people like Singleton did not passively accept their condition but resisted it in numerous ways. They will learn about covert as well as overt resistance and will reflect upon the techniques people use to resist injustice today.

Guiding Questions

What do William Henry Singleton's life experiences teach us about resistance to slavery?


What are injustices today that need to be resisted and what are various resistance strategies?

Learning Objectives

Distinguish covert from overt ways of resisting and provide examples of both

List and discuss the various ways Singleton resisted slavery, including running away when he was a child


Explain why covert slave resistance was much more common than overt resistance