Mary Meachum October 14
From Field Hollas to Hip Hop:
Celebrating St. Louis Black Music History
Saturday, October 14th
Free community event 12-4pm
at the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing on the Mississippi Greenway
(25 E. Grand Ave., St. Louis, MO 63147)
Food & drink for sale, local artists & makers
Lots of on your feet music!
Children’s activities too:
- Double dutch jump rope tournament with Strive to Fitness
- Plein air painting (painting outside!) with local artist Sarah Lorentz
- Magnetic poetry wall with local poet Dr. Treasure Shields Redmond
After slavery, the Black migration out of the south followed the Mississippi River, bringing with it rich musical history. Black music has always reflected the feelings of joy, blues and their inner lives. Field Hollas will become the blues, ragtime to jazz that will influence music around the world. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop. DJ Kool Herc couldn’t have imagined he was starting a movement that would sweep the world.
This year’s program includes music from various eras throughout history, introduced with the context and background taking place in Black communities in St. Louis at each time.
Who is Mary Meachum?
Mary Meachum (1801–1869) and her husband, Reverend John Berry Meachum, were American abolitionists who dedicated their lives to educating and freeing enslaved people. Reverend Meachum grew up enslaved in Virginia and Kentucky before earning enough money to purchase his freedom. John followed his first wife to St. Louis where he bought her freedom. Later, he married Mary, a free born Black woman, and eventually established the First African Baptist Church, the first Black congregation in St. Louis.
To learn more about Mary Meachum, check out the following resources:
- KTVI story about the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing
- KETC story about the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing
- Missouri Botanical Garden’s Freedom Seekers
- Missouri Historical Society’s #1 in Civil Rights virtual exhibit
- National Park Service’s Network to Freedom
- What did Mary Meachum look like? (might not be what you think!)
As part of Reverend Meachum’s church, he established a school for free and enslaved black students called the “The Candle Tallow School.” The Meachums’ home on Fourth Street in St. Louis was a safe house on the Underground Railroad. From there, they helped enslaved people escape to Illinois – a Free State, where slavery was outlawed. Their work involved considerable risk due to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 – a law authorizing the hunting and capture of escaped enslaved people and requirement that they be returned to their enslavers. After John’s death in 1854, Mary Meachum continued their work educating and freeing enslaved people.
What is the significance of the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Site?
On the night of May 21, 1855 – in the area that is now part of the Mississippi Greenway: Riverfront Trail north of the Merchant’s bridge – Mary Meachum attempted to help a small group of enslaved people cross the Mississippi River to Illinois where slavery was outlawed. However, enslavers and law enforcement officials caught at least five of the enslaved people and arrested Mary for her participation in the plot. She was charged in criminal court for helping the “fugitives” escape. In 2001, the National Park Service recognized the site as part of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Where is the Mary Meachum Site?
The site is located on the Mississippi Greenway. To bike or walk to the site, you can park in North Riverfront Park and ride south on the greenway. To drive there, take Highway 70 to Adelaide Avenue: Head east toward river; south on Hall to Prairie; left (east) on Prairie to site & parking, free shuttle the rest of the way.
Subscribe for updates about the Mary Meachum site and celebrations
The 2022 event brought hundreds of people together at the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing site for the 20th anniversary of this celebration.
The 2021 virtual event highlights the stories of Black St. Louisans whose lives were intertwined with Missouri’s journey to statehood and the legalization of slavery in the state. In 1818, Missouri wanted to join the Union as a slave state. A compromise was struck, and the horror of slavery was once again expanded. There was no compromise for enslaved people. Join us to learn about and connect to our community’s past, present, and future. Thank you to the 2021 sponsors Great Rivers Greenway and Missouri Division of Tourism for supporting bringing these important stories to life!
The 2020 event (virtual) focused on the struggles to pass the 15th Amendment giving Black men the right to vote, and the incredible violence that women had to endure for the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment. Check it out here.