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 2019 celebration brought to life the story of Africans to Americans: 400 Years of History. The 2020 event will focus 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.
The event typically features all of these things and more along the Mighty Mississippi River:
- Main event – historic re-enactment (3-4pm)
- Entertainment including a gospel choir showcase (12-1:30pm), Spirit of Angela dancing and drumming (2pm)
- Guest speakers, voter registration and community organizations
- Games and education for children
- Food, drinks, and artisan goods/crafts for purchase
Be part of this event with a booth for your organization or business! Click here to register as a vendor at the 2020 Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration.
There is no other action that has been so contested in our country’s history as the idea of who has the right to vote. At various times since the founding of the country, there have been revolving factions of the population who could not vote. They included poor white men, women, African Americans, Native Americans and Jews. In some states, Catholics were denied the vote. For the vote was the equalizer, and viewed as a danger to the people that held it. We discuss 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 20th amendment.
The year 2020 is both historic and pivotal. Historic in that it is the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment and the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Our event this year looks at the history of the vote and the maintaining of power through the lens of conflicts. Radical Republicans vs. the Unrepentant South, Susan B. Anthony vs. Fredrick Douglas, Men vs. Women, White women vs. Black Women.
Join us to learn about and connect to our community’s past, present and future!
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 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.
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 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.
Where is the Mary Meachum Site?
The site is located on the Mississippi Greenway. Several sections of the greenway are impacted by construction. To ride 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. Rangers & shuttles can direct you to the event from there!