Mark your calendars for May 7, when the 14th Annual Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration will take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Missouri’s first nationally recognized Underground Railroad site (4500 E. Prairie Ave.).
Mary Meachum, a free woman of color and the widow of John Berry Meachum, spearheaded efforts in education. Mary Meachum took a stand against slavery and used her home as a depot of the Underground Railroad. In 1855, she was arrested for aiding in the attempted escape of nine slaves across the Mississippi River to freedom in Illinois. Hence the site is now named in her honor.
This year’s theme for the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration is “Beginnings of a Brave New World.” The year is 1866, and the Civil War has ended. Filled with the promise of freedom and self-determination, we see the rise of black cultural institutions, education, churches and the Buffalo Soldiers.
After the Civil War, Congress established the “The Army Reorganization Act of 1866.” This law called for the formation of four black infantry and two black cavalry regiments. The 24th and 25th infantry, the 9th and 10th cavalry would be known as “the Buffalo Soldiers.”
In 1866, black units not on duty in the south were sent to Jefferson Barracks. The Army recognized the need for training and educating of black men at this time. There was a strong recruitment presence in St. Louis and other northern cities because of the high level of literacy among the black population.
The newly freed of the 65th U.S. Colored Troop (USCT) understood the importance of education and gave their mustering out pay to their white commander to purchase land for the purpose of creating a Normal school (teacher’s college) which would become Lincoln Institute (or Lincoln University). This year Lincoln University celebrates its 150th anniversary. Lincoln University is also the oldest, most prestigious and continually operating historically black college and university west of the Mississippi River.
On May 7, you may take part in reenactment activities such as the recruitment of the Buffalo Soldiers. If you’ve ever wanted to be a Buffalo Solider here’s your chance as all men who want to train as a new recruit for the Buffalo Soldiers are invited to re-create the experience.
“It’s a fun window into 19th century black culture and history,” Angela da Silva, owner of the National Black Tourism Network.
Children can play 19th century games such as hoop rolling and create works of art. Experience what the Freedmen’s school was like during this time complete with slates and books. Eat foods of the African diaspora and dance as this event will conclude with “Barn dance,” featuring the “buck and wing” and other folk dances. Watch and listen as numerous church choirs and community singing groups compete for prizes and win by audience acclaim. For more details about this event, you can visit www.marymeachum.org or call (314) 865-0708.
Also save the date for entertainment, African marketplace, food, and a children's village at the Annual St. Louis African Arts Festival on May 28-30 (Memorial Day Weekend) at World’s Fair Pavilion in Forest Park. For more events that will give you a glimpse of history and a world of experiences visit www.explorestouis.com.