Unveiling of Freedom Suits Memorial, recognizing lawsuits filed in St. Louis by slaves seeking their freedom set for June 20

SCULPTOR PRESTON JACKSON at work in his studio on one of the elements of the Freedom Suits Memorial. – Freedom Suits Memorial Project photo

After many years of planning and organizing, the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court and the Freedom Suits Memorial Steering Committee will unveil the new Freedom Suits Memorial on the east plaza of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis on Monday, June 20.

The Freedom Suits are a series of lawsuits filed in City of St. Louis by Black and enslaved plaintiffs, who fought for their freedom with the help of some courageous attorneys in the years leading up to the Civil War. The monument is a 14-foot tall bronze sculpture atop a black granite base etched with the names of the plaintiffs. The monument was designed and created by nationally recognized Black artist Preston Jackson.

From the time of the Louisiana Purchase until the Emancipation Proclamation 57 years later, approximately 400 courageous slaves filed lawsuits in Missouri Courts to demand their freedom, assisted by lawyers working without pay.

It was a great challenge for a slave to get to court, but once there, they had a legal precedent on their side: “Once free, always free.” Under this theory, the courts had held that a slave who had been moved to a free state or territory for any length of time then returned to a slave state or territory could sue for his or her freedom.

A group of anti-slavery lawyers in the St. Louis region believed that through the courts, they might extend this legal theory and ultimately end the abomination of slavery in the United States without a violent struggle.

They succeeded in freeing many slaves, including Dred and Harriet Scott.

Unfortunately for the Scotts, their original owner died while their case was pending. The owner’s widow and her brother appealed the St. Louis verdict, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The resulting decision is generally considered the worst in the history of the Supreme Court. It held that all people of African ancestry — slaves as well as those who were free — could never become citizens of the United States and therefore could not sue in federal court. The court also ruled that the federal government did not have the power to prohibit slavery in its territories.

The decision in 1857 propelled the United States toward the Civil War four years later.

Freedom Suits Memorial unveiling

The unveiling of the Freedom Suits Memorial on Monday, June 20, on the east plaza of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis will include the following schedule:

3:30 p.m. – Participants, guests, and leaders will gather on the west side of the Old St. Louis Courthouse for a “Freedom Walk”. This was the site of perhaps the most famous and pivotal freedom suit, also known as the Dred Scott case.

4 p.m. – The “Freedom Walk” will commence west down Market Street to the east plaza of the Civil Courts Building. Media will be provided a designated location with audio hook-up and one-on-one interview opportunities.

5 p.m. – The unveiling ceremony begins with remarks by keynote speaker, Lt. General Russel L. Honore’ USA (Ret.), Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, Lynne Jackson, the great-great granddaughter of Dred & Harriet Scott, and Circuit Judge David C. Mason, who envisioned and championed this entire effort.

For more information on the unveiling ceremony, contact Jacob Long, chief communications officer, 22nd Judicial Circuit Court at 314-622-5685, or 314-775-5870.

For more information on the Freedom Suits and the memorial visit https://www.stlcitycircuitcourt.com/FreedomSuits/MemorialSculptureCCB.htm.


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