17th Annual Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration
Saturday May 4, 2019 noon to 5pm
The “Africans to Americans: 400 Years of History” event will chronicle the lives of Africans in America from their first arrival as slaves in 1619 to present day.
Watch history come to life on the banks of the mighty Mississippi as local actors and musicians bring three plays to life-each focused on a different time frame between 1619 and 2019 through music, poetry and re-enactments.
This event is FREE- all are welcome!
The event will also feature:
Angela da Silva takes pride in being a fifth generation descendant of Missouri slaves on both sides of the family. She received her bachelor’s degree in business management from Webster University, where she also attended graduate school.Read More
Gregory S. Carr is an instructor of Speech and Theatre at Harris-Stowe State University. He is an accomplished director and writer. Two of his plays, Johnnie Taylor is Gone and A Colored Funeral have been given productions at the historic Karamu House in Cleveland.Read More
Mariah L. Richardson is a native of St. Louis. She received a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of New Mexico and an M.F.A. in playwriting from Smith College. Richardson began her acting career in New Mexico.Read More
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 are co-hosting a free workshop to help people of color trace their ancestry in America. Typical genealogical research strategies often fail when applied to enslaved African Americans. Dr. Gina Paige, National Expert and found of African Ancestry will give the keynote address. Click here to see the complete workshop schedule and speaker lineup!
Mary Meachum (1801–1869) and her husband, Reverend John Berry Meachum, were American abolitionists who dedicated their lives to educating and freeing slaves. As part of Reverend Meachum’s church, he established a school for free and enslaved black students called the “The Candle Tallow School.” After the state of Missouri banned all education for black people in 1847, the Meachum’s moved their classes to a steamboat in the middle of the Mississippi River, which was beyond the reach of Missouri law. He provided the school with a library, desks and chairs, and called it the “Floating Freedom School.” The Meachum’s home on Fourth Street in St. Louis was a safe house on the Underground Railroad. They also helped slaves escape to Illinois, 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 slaves and requirement that they be returned to their masters.
Reverend John Berry Meachum grew up as a slave in Virginia and Kentucky before earning enough money to purchase his freedom. Before leaving Kentucky, he met Mary, a slave who was set to be moved by her slave owner to St. Louis. John followed Mary to St. Louis where he bought her freedom and eventually established the First African Baptist Church, the first black congregation in St. Louis. After John’s death in 1854, Mary Meachum continued their work educating and freeing slaves.
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 Americans cross the Mississippi River to Illinois where slavery was outlawed. However, slave owners and law enforcement officials caught at least five of the slaves 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.
Take Highway 70 to Grand Ave: East toward river; North on Hall to Prairie; Right on Prairie to site & parking. Rangers & shuttles can direct you to the event from there!
Special thanks to our sponsors and funders for the 2019 event: