Hi everyone. It’s Peter, your history and science reporter from Show Me Adventure Kids. Today, we’re kicking off our coverage of Black History Month. Have you started any lessons in your school about black history yet?
Well, today, I’m in St. Louis at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. The museum has an exhibit that will be open through April 15, “#1 in Civil Rights: The African-American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis.” In the exhibit, I learned that St. Louis can trace its civil rights history to the 19th century, but more on that in a minute.
Protests and court cases originating in St. Louis helped to shape our country’s Civil Rights Movement. When you come to the exhibit with your family, you’ll probably meet one or two ACTivists, actors who portray some of these historical characters featured in the exhibit. I even got to ask one of them a few questions about someone named Dred Scott.
Mr. Scott was a slave who tried to sue in federal court for his freedom (and for his family’s freedom, too). In St. Louis, the case was heard at the Old Courthouse downtown, which also was the site where black slaves were sold. It’s hard to hear about this kind of history in my home state, but it’s important we all know it.
Anyway, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857, but the justices said as a black man, Mr. Scott wasn’t an American citizen and didn’t have the right to sue. His case was dismissed. I learned that three months later, Mr. Scott’s owners gave Mr. Scott and several family members their freedom.
During Black History Month, you can visit the Old Courthouse and see volunteers re-enact the court case. The courthouse is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (you know, the Arch), one of Missouri’s national parks.
Which brings me back to Thomas Jefferson. St. Louis‘ Jefferson Memorial (home to the Missouri History Museum) was dedicated in 1913, built with profits from the Louisiana Purchase Expedition (World’s Fair) that was in St. Louis in 1904. If you remember your history lesson, Missouri was part of the Louisiana Purchase, which happened in 1803 under President Thomas Jefferson. (If you haven’t had that lesson yet, don’t worry – you will.)
The Jefferson Memorial stands at what was the main entrance to the St. Louis World’s Fair. Fun fact: It is the country’s first monument to Jefferson; the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., wasn’t completed until 1943.
Not a fun fact: Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers and an important contributor to our Declaration of Independence, was a slave holder in Virginia. I can’t understand how a guy who writes “all men are created equal” would enslave men and women. But then, most of history gets pretty complicated. It’s still important to hear all of it.
Plan your visit to these black history sites:
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm
Missouri History Museum, www.mohistory.org
Next week, we'll take a look at George Washington Carver.
The Show•Me Blog
Visit here for family trip ideas and other activities the Show•Me Kids want to share.