The event at the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, will feature historical re-enactments, a choir competition, walking and biking tours and activities for children
Come watch local history come alive at Missouri’s first nationally-recognized Underground Railroad site, the historic Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing. All are welcome to get a glimpse of what life was like for the 25th Colored Infantry during their famous 1,900-mile, 41-day journey by bicycle in 1897. The “Buffalo Soldiers and Bicycles” event will chronical the voyage of 20 Buffalo Soldiers, who were employed to test the use of bicycles as vehicles of war. These soldiers endured rough riding conditions as they traveled from Fort Missoula, MT., to St. Louis in just 41 days, where they were greeted by over 10,000 people awaiting their arrival in Forest Park. This is the 15th annual event being held at the Mary Meachum site to commemorate the historical significance of the site and the importance of black history in St. Louis.
Residents of all ages attending the free celebration on June 10 will be able to view re-enactments of the great journey, along with experiencing living history via appearances by several costumed performers. The event will also feature music and food and drinks for purchase. Other highlights will include additional re-enactments, games and scavenger hunts for kids, and a competition between local choirs from area churches. A sunset flag ceremony and a traditional barn dance, featuring “called dances” with opportunities for attendees join in, will round out the event. Guests are welcome to come in 1897 attire or just as they are.
That morning, before the official event begins, Great Rivers Greenway and Trailnet will also be hosting a free, 10-mile, roundtrip historical bike ride along St. Louis City street routes. Those participating in the ride will be able to learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers and other local black historical events during five stops along the route. The ride begins at the Biddle Street Trailhead on the St. Louis Riverfront at 10 a.m., ending at the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing site at noon – just in time for the “Buffalo Soldiers and Bicycles” event. Guides will also be stationed along the Mississippi Greenway, from Biddle Street Trailhead to the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing site (a distance of three miles), for those walking or biking the greenway from the Biddle Street Trailhead to get to the event.
“The soldiers in the 25th Colored Infantry rode specially designed prototype bicycles, of which only 26 were made,” said Angela da Silva, Adjunct Professor at Lindenwood University and historical reenactor director and event manager. “It was the event of the summer as they left from Missoula, MT, crossing five states before arriving to an incredible reception here in St. Louis.”
Further testing of the use of bicycles in war was permanently shelved due to the onset of the Spanish-American War. The Bicycle Corps disbanded and members of the 25th Colored Infantry were deployed to Cuba to fight in the Spanish American war as part of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing site is located on the Mississippi River Greenway on the banks of the Mississippi River, just north of Merchant’s Bridge in North St. Louis City. The site commemorates the work of Mary Meachum, a free woman of color who guided many slaves to freedom by helping them to cross over to the free state of Illinois, and later helped to spearhead education efforts for men, women and children of color in St. Louis.
“This event aims to provide an experiential opportunity to participate in an historical event, acquaint visitors with customs and culture of the period, and to showcase great moments in the African-American experience,” said Linda Harris, Senior Vice President of Administration and Compliance for Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, a partner on the event. “This event is a great opportunity for everyone to think about what life was like for the Buffalo Soldiers during their spectacular journey.”
Open to all ages, this event is free, and is a partnership of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Great Rivers Greenway, the City of St. Louis, the National Black Tourism Network, the Historic Daniel Boone Home & Heritage Center, and Youth and Family Center. Additional sponsors include the Missouri Department of Tourism. For more information, visit www.MaryMeachum.org.