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. We hope you will join us to learn about and connect to our community’s past, present and future!
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 Slaves. Thank you to this year’s sponsors Great Rivers Greenway and Missouri Division of Tourism for supporting bringing these important stories to life!
Annual free community event for all ages
Every year, a variety of partners plan and host the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration on the Mississippi Greenway. The theme of the event changes each year and shines a spotlight on important-yet rarely told or not widely known-Black history in St. Louis. 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.
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Who was 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. 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 enslaved people 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 enslaved people and requirement that they be returned to their enslavers.
Reverend John Berry Meachum grew up enslaved in Virginia and Kentucky before earning enough money to purchase his freedom. Before leaving Kentucky, he met Mary, an enslaved woman who was set to be moved by her enslavers 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 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. Several sections of the greenway are currently impacted by construction. 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 Grand Ave: East toward river; North on Hall to Prairie; Right on Prairie to site & parking.
Big thanks to our sponsors:
MISSION: Great Rivers Greenway makes the St. Louis region a more vibrant place to live, work and play by developing a network of greenways.