Etta Daniels stood out among the hundreds who faced the heat and humidity and gathered in the city center in front of the civil court building early Monday night. The courts were closed to celebrate the June 10 federal holiday.
They came one day dedicated to honoring the emancipation of blacks in America to reveal, dedicate and bless the Freedom Suits Memorial created by Preston Jackson. He gave the title to the 14-foot bronze statue of “Freedom’s Home”.
“It’s important as we celebrate that revelation coincides with June, because that date has always been a symbol of the postponement of Freedom,” said US Congresswoman Cory Bush. “We know that this dream has not yet come true, because the remnants of slavery continue to deny us compensation, liberation and freedom.”
As Bush spoke, Daniels held a small plaque as a tribute to one of more than 300 cases in which blacks used the judiciary as ammunition in their fight for freedom, collectively known as The Freedom Suits. The most famous of these was the Dred Scott case, which was unsuccessfully heard in the US Supreme Court – and is said by many to have been one of the instigators of the Civil War.
“Lucy Ann Britton vs. David D. Mitchell, Freedom Suit Wins in 1844,” wrote the Daniels poster. He kept this record for the entire outdoor program, which was approaching two hours in duration.
Britton, who later married to become Lucy Delaney, won her case more than a decade before the Dred Scott case – which began in St. Louis courts. Louis in 1846 – arrives at the US Supreme Court. The Freedom Suits Memorial ensures that others, like Delaney, will be credited as well.
“This woman did not even know what she was leaving in the world,” said Daniels, who is a volunteer historian for Greenwood Cemetery, a local black burial site. “It’s just amazing when you think about it.”
Monday was a day almost a decade in the making, according to Freedom Suits Memorial Steering Committee Chairman Paul Venker. The initiative was spearheaded by 22nd District Court Judge David Mason. “You should not make a judge cry,” Mason said, offering some comic relief. He fought back tears during his remarks, as he was praised by all the speakers for his tireless work to make the monument a reality.
Emotions were strong as officials and political leaders shared their personal stories and acknowledged that the nation was still far from fully honoring its promise of “freedom and justice for all” and its statement that all people are created equal. Observations included both history lessons and personal narratives.
State Sen. Steve Roberts said that through the Freedom Suits in St. Louis, the “great American experiment” was faced with its most difficult challenge.
“The hundreds of slaves and lawyers mentioned here at this point have done much more than sue for their freedom,” Roberts said. “These men and women became part of the most critical test in the history of our nation – a test that sought to answer the question posed and discussed since our founding. And that is, “what kind of country do we want to be?”
The Freedom Suits Memorial Foundation’s efforts forced St. Louis Mayor Tisaura Jones to rethink the life of her great-grandfather, a slave named Spencer Nas.
“I often wonder if he thought he was suing for his own freedom or knew someone he knew who was suing for his freedom,” Jones said. “The burden of proof was on the plaintiff, because blacks in this country have always had to prove our humanity.”
Freedom for future generations
According to Jones, the story of St. Louis allowing slaves to sue for their freedom is a unique distinction for our city.
“Just as the Gate Arch is the symbol of the West Gate, this monument is a testament to justice – and how our courts served as a gateway to freedom for slaves,” Jones said. “There is a duality in Freedom Suits – the promise of justice that is tempered by the fragility of progress. In the end, it was justice that prevailed, even though many plaintiffs did not see it in their lives. “
Jones has declared herself – and this generation today – that it is a dream come true.
“I do not miss, both the granddaughter of a slave and the first black woman mayor of St. Louis, that I live a life that neither my ancestors nor their oppressors ever imagined,” Jones said. “There is a new vibrancy in Black culture – our resilience and our resilience – as we celebrate the weekend in June. “And it’s a testament to how Freedom Suits resonate with history.”
The common denominator between the remarks was that, despite being constantly betrayed by the nation, blacks committed themselves to making freedom and equality a reality and encouraging America to live up to its ideals.
“If you study history, anywhere in the world where freedom has been taken away, you will find that there are those who are struggling to get it. “This is no less true than for the American slave,” Mason said. “They would run. They would revolt. They would sing. They filed these lawsuits when they heard that the law would allow it. “Every open door, every separated bush, every pressed blade of grass that could lead to freedom, my slaves and ancestors pressed it.”
The keynote speaker, retired Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, relied on extensive knowledge of military history – and 37 years, three months and three days of service – to bring home the courage and sacrifice of Freedom Suits plaintiffs. as “the 300”.
“Most of what I’m telling you will not be taught in Florida and Texas this year – and that’s a shame,” Honore said. “I was an adult in the military before I learned that 20 percent of General Washington’s army were African American. They were promised this concept of freedom because they had been read the Declaration of Independence. “But the people who wrote it did not have the African-American in mind when they wrote it.”
As Honor continued his speech highlighting the betrayals of blacks who served their country, Daniels stood out with her mark. Deal with those who have questions about Lucy Delaney and the Freedom Suit poster.
He walked closer to the statue as Pastor Anthony L. Riley laid his hands on the statue to mark the end of the ceremony. “As we bless this monument, we confess the sin of our state in Missouri, which jeopardized the integrity of God’s creation,” he said. “God created us in His image, and in the image of God there is neither slave nor free man. We remember the hundreds of slaves whose names we know – and the dozens of names we do not know – who sued for their freedom. Challenge us, Lord, to decide not only to claim personal freedom, but also to seek to protect those who are very vulnerable in order to protect their own freedoms. “
Many dispersed when the prayer was over, but not many – including Daniels – were left to see the statue up close.
“I’re just waiting to be able to go there and touch her name,” Daniels said, pointing to Dulaney’s rendering by the artist on the poster. “We have so many people who have given us so much. They are not famous people. These are everyday people who did such incredible things. That’s the reason we stand here. “