Marking 400 years of history

Africans to Americans: 400 Years of History to be celebrated with genealogy event and the annual Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration

By Charlotte Beard

The year 2019 marks 400 years since Africans were taken from their homeland in the transatlantic slave trade. Subsequently they and their descendants would come to be key in the making of North and South America. To mark the historical anniversary, the 17th annual Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration has joined with community leaders to present Africans to Americans: 400 Years of History. The history will be commemorated by two separate events taking place on Saturday, April 27 and Saturday, May 4.

A free ancestry workshop event will be held April 27 from 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the St. Louis Central Library Auditorium (lower level) located at 1301 Olive Street in Downtown St. Louis. While the May 4 event will attract people from around the St. Louis region and beyond, the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration is collaborating with St. Louis Public Library’s Genealogy Room to invite people of color to this workshop to help trace their ancestry in America. It is stated that typical genealogical research strategies often fail when applied to enslaved African Americans. 

The workshop’s aim is to help attendees learn the value of tracing their family history and how to get started. Prior to talks with the panel of experts, the workshop will begin in the auditorium lobby with open consultations conducted by Association of African Ancestored Researchers and the St. Louis Public Library’s Genealogy Room. 

Consults for St. Louis residents will be on a first-come-first-serve basis. Attendees are encouraged to bring DNA results or their family tree. After the consult sessions conclude at 12:30 p.m., the workshop will follow with the speaker event. Speakers include Connie Eller, Christopher Nordmann, LaDonna Garner, Daniel Lilienkamp and Dr. Gina Paige – founder of African Ancestry and the keynote speaker. For more details and a complete lineup, visit https://greatriversgreenway.org/event/africans-to-americans-ancestry-workshop.

On May 4 from noon to 5 pm, the free celebration will continue for all St. Louisans at The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing located on the Mississippi River Greenway on the banks of the Mississippi River. It is north of Merchant’s Bridge in North St. Louis City at 28 East Grand. Parking is free and a shuttle will be available to transport attendees to the event’s site. The site commemorates Mary Meachum, a free woman of color who guided many slaves to freedom by helping them cross over to the free state of Illinois, and later helped spearhead education efforts for people of color in St. Louis.

The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration is made possible by the partnerships of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, National Black Tourism Network, Youth & Family Center, National Underground Railroad Network, the City of St. Louis, St. Louis Public Library, St. Louis County Library, St. Charles County Parks, the Historic Daniel Boone Home, Great Rivers Greenway and Missouri Division of Tourism. 

The event will kick-off with music and a gospel choir competition sponsored by Praise 95.1 radio. The celebration will also include games for children. Attendees can purchase food, drinks, and artisan goods/crafts at the celebration as well. The event’s annual play, a mainstay of the Meachum Freedom Crossing celebration, will begin at 3:30 p.m.

“Each year we correspond with something different in black history and there is always a dramatic piece that corresponds with the theme,” stated Angela da Silva, Director of the National Black Tourism Network and Event Manager for Mary Meachum.

The one-hour play dramatization includes the writing of da Silva and two other playwrights – Gregory S. Carr and Mariah L. Richardson. The play is representative of three 20-minute segments blended to depict three timeframes from the years 1619 – 2019.

“You’ve got three different visions in each of these 20 minutes,” shared da Silva. “It’s exciting! I love rehearsal! It was my idea – 400 years of history to me was too big for one person. I wanted something collaborative. We start in Africa all the way through the middle-passage; all the intervening years. It’s the history all come to life. You’ll get it all.”

The play will open with da Saliva’s visionary lens of history depicting the period in which Africans were taken from their homeland and ending with the year 1750. Carr’s vision will be picked up in 1970 through the period of the Civil War.

da Silva stated, “In 1750 – we broke it there because that’s the rise of revolution in this country.”

She went on to share that Richardson’s vision will conclude the 400-year history with the reconstruction to civil rights.

 “This year is a milestone of black history that must be elevated and celebrated,” says da Silva who is also an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University. “It’s important for all of us to not only recognize 400 years of hardship and sacrifice but also honor the incredible contributions black people have made to this country since 1619.”

For more details on the event visit www.MaryMeachum.org.

CUTLINE: Submitted photos Participants in the 2018 Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration.