Mary Meachum Recap

Africans to Americans: Two Events in St. Louis Successfully Celebrate 400 Years of Black History

Ancestry Workshop, Guest Speakers & DNA Reveal April 27th, 2019

17th Annual Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration May 4th, 2019


Africans to Americans: 400 Years of History Ancestry Workshop, Speakers & DNA Reveal April 27th, 2019

As part of the Africans to Americans: 400 Years of History event, the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration and St. Louis Public Library’s Genealogy Room hosted a free event on Saturday, April 27 at the Central Library to help people of color trace their ancestry in America. Because typical genealogical research strategies often fail when applied to enslaved African Americans, the workshop brought together a panel of experts to equip and inspire people of color to trace their family history.   Event attendees learned how to get started from a panel of experts, along with  one-on-one research tips, tricks and assistance from Association of African Ancestored Researchers, local researcher Connie Eller and the St. Louis Public Library’s Genealogy Room.













Next up, four speakers shared their experiences in the auditorium and answered the audiences’ question in a panel format at the end:

Panelists from left to right: Connie Eller, Christopher Nordmann, Daniel Lilienkamp, LaDonna Garner













The panelists and  presentations included:

  • Connie Eller, “Walk the Dirt”- Learn more about the value of tracing family history and visiting the places where ancestors lived from past to present.
  • Christopher Nordmann, “Locating Your Slave Ancestor’s Owner: A Case Study”- Trace an African American family in freedom back to slavery from Missouri to Kentucky to Virginia using a variety of records.
  • LaDonna Garner, “Recording Families is Recording Local History”- Family groupings form neighborhoods, and neighborhoods shape into communities. Learn why it is important to preserve the artifacts of these communities to maintain a blueprint of local history.
  • Daniel Lilienkamp, “Manuscript Collections: A Tool for Finding Your Enslaved African American Ancestors”- Learn why typical U.S. genealogical research strategies often fail when applied to enslaved African Americans and how to begin researching slave owning families’ detailed plantation records to trace ancestry. (Followed by question and answers.)

Lastly, Dr. Gina Paige, founder of spoke about their database and system. She then delivered DNA results to two locals, including one city official.

Dr. Gina Paige, founder of and Michael Butler, Recorder of Deeds for the City of St. Louis


















“It was really illuminating to find out my family’s African ancestry is originally from Cameroon. Because our records were not kept, so many of us are just now discovering our specific backgrounds. Our archives office was honored to participate at the annual Mary Meachum celebration in helping other families uncover their genealogies,” said Michael Butler, Recorder of Deeds for the City of St. Louis.

Africans to Americans: 400 Years of History
17th Annual Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration May 4th, 2019

Saturday, May 4, 2019, from noon to 5 p.m., residents from around the St. Louis region and beyond came to watch history come to life near Missouri’s first nationally-recognized Underground Railroad site, the historic Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing. Because of the high floodwaters, the event that normally takes place on the riverfront was relocated to the dry side of the floodwall on Prairie Street.

Attendees exploring the celebration

Approximately 500 guests experienced local performers, dancers, drummers, gospel choirs, Jennings High School Band, plus remarks and resolutions from city, county and state elected officials. Attendees could also engage with local organizations providing games and bikes for children, jobs and resources and vendors selling food, drink, art and goods. The 400 years of history was told by three renowned St. Louis-area playwrights through a 3-act performance; each focused on a different timeframe between 1619 and 2019. Angela da Silva, Gregory S. Carr and Mariah L. Richardson wrote the plays for local actors, musicians and storytellers to bring to life through poetry, music and reenactments. DJ Scooda from Praise 95.1 emceed the entire event.

Local group Spirit of Angela performs












“This year is a milestone of black history and it was important that it be elevated and celebrated,” says Angela da Silva, Adjunct Professor at Lindenwood University, director of the National Black Tourism Network, historical reenactor director, and Mary Meachum event manager. “It’s important for all of us to not only recognize 400 years of hardship and sacrifice but also honor the incredible contributions black people have made to this country since 1619.”

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.

Open to all ages, both events were free, put on by a partnership of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, National Black Tourism Network, Youth & Family Center, National Underground Railroad Network, the City of St. Louis, St. Louis Public Library, St. Louis County Library, St. Charles County Parks and the Historic Daniel Boone Home, Great Rivers Greenway, Missouri Division of Tourism,. For more information, visit