ST. LOUIS — A memorial paying tribute to black Missourians who filed legal challenges from being enslaved now stands outside the Civil Courts building in downtown St. Louis. The memorial includes what is believed to be the largest known, single collection of the names of those plaintiffs.
Missouri’s 22nd Judicial Circuit Court unveiled the 14-foot bronze statue resting on an 8,000-pound granite base etched with the names of those plaintiffs Monday evening.
“It took a little while to convince people to understand why this was important to the city,” said Hon. David Mason, 22nd Circuit Court Judge.
He said the effort began in 2008 and was moved by the crowd of people who gathered to see the unveiling.
“St. Louis understands this,” said Mason. “St. Louis showed up.”
The senior pastor from Central Baptist Church in St. Louis was among those attending Monday’s dedication. Rev. Anthony L. Riley said past church members included Harriet and Dred Scott.
“I’m really struck by the courage it took for these persons to file suit in a state that will always honor the lives,” said Riley. “They knew there could be a great backlash. They could be literally sold downstream, but because of them, here we are today, honoring their memory and hundreds of others we didn’t know who did the same thing.”
Lynne Jackson is the great-great-granddaughter of Harriet and Dred Scott. She addressed the crowd and encouraged them to be inspired by those willing to go to court to fight for their freedom.
“Think about the sacrifices and the difficulties and think about how you can be a better person and carry this story forward with us,” said Jackson.
Mason said he expects those who see the monument to walk away with a variety of perspectives.
“Some will look at that and think of their own ancestors. Some will look at that and think of their duty today as lawyers, judges, or jurors,” said Mason.“Some will look at that and say, you know, isn’t it great that justice prevailed even in that small sliver for the people who are the most disenfranchised people in the whole community. That courthouse door was open to the rights that they had and a lot of people are going to hold on to that. That means a lot for our city. We did it.”