Historian and Author
I like to share the more difficult stories…
Exploring Missouri’s rich history and heritage
Join me as I research the difficult stories that bring our history to life…
How can we know how far we have come? As a historian, I see the Freedom (Emancipation) Memorial monument as a frozen moment in time. Its’ sculptor Thomas Ball was was a native of Boston. The result is a story that is a combination of both art and history. It began as the emotions of a black woman named Charlotte Scott when she heard of Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865. She went to her former enslaver and gave him her first $5 ever earned as a free woman. He in turn saw that it was given to William Greenleaf Eliot in St. Louis. After eleven years of fundraising, where over $16,000 was given by the African Americans across the U.S., many consultations with the artist, Eliot shared a photo of the monument with Archer Alexander, and the formerly enslaved man portrayed on the monument said: “I’se free!”. Sometimes, perhaps we need to stop and think and listen to the story that the monument is meant to share, keeping in mind how we must look at it through the eyes of that time period. This is a chance to share with our grandchildren the story of how far we have come as a nation. Perhaps, if we can share this story and if people perhaps take a moment to listen, we all might come to a greater understanding of not only the monument but of each other.
Archer Alexander is the slave that is rising on the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. Born a slave in Lexington, Virginia, and taken to Missouri in 1829, he never expected to be the slave depicted on the monument.
Author of the blog…
In February 2019, Archer Alexander’s family would visit St. Louis and St. Charles and the visit would be captured by Chad Davis for St. Louis Public Radio. Here is the link..
Discovering the backstory
The backstory to the stories, as I share the discoveries…
Everyone, of any culture, loves an old photo of their ancestors. Young or old, black or white, we all love them. We can stare at them trying to discern every last detail, and share them with anyone who will look at them too. We imagine their life and judge their success by the clothes they are wearing. We may even have stories that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Family historians display these finds, adding birth dates and death dates, and tales of who they were and what they did in their lifetimes.
They also love to photograph and share the finds of where that treasured ancestor is buried. That final monument, large or small, flat or tall, that captures an ancestors’ life in stone. Two dates with a dash in between, in a cemetery. Cemeteries are filled with the monuments of our ancestors. A sacred plot where we are all equal. Our descendants will work with whatever funds available to elevate us with works of art in granite or marble. This is where our family comes to pay their respects and share the stories. Sometimes, sadly cemeteries become forgotten and their stories are lost. It is said that as long as a name is said that person is not forgotten.
Monuments in our cities and parks are the same. While not marking the gravesite, they are a memorial to that person, their life and their deeds. They are proudly dedicated with words that share the story. Like that old photograph, they capture the life and the history. Sometimes the story gets forgotten, lost to the ravages of time. Because time marches on, and people change. What made that life special though does not change, but the times in which we live do. Many of us love to take that old photograph, or look at that monument, and recall how the world has changed since that moment. Winston Churchill said, “the further one can look back, then the further we can see forward.” If we destroy those opportunities to look back, I wonder how we can we ever know how much we have moved forward. Someday, we will want our grandchildren to look back on us with respect for our deeds. Let us teach them today, with good examples, of how to listen to the stories of the past with respect and not judgement. Someday we will all be stories of the past, that old photograph or that monument, that should never be forgotten.
Thirty years of research and some of the stories I have recently shared…
The Untold Story of an American Hero – Archer Alexander. In 2018, I met Keith Winstead, a cousin of Muhammad Ali, when he posed a question to me “Do you know where Archer Alexander is buried”. Winstead, from Louisville, is the family historian of his family who had just made an amazing DNA discovery, that he and his cousin were descendants of a slave that had lived in St Louis and had been searching for his ancestors grave. That began an amazing journey of discovery. Stories of fugitive slaves, underground railroad, and emancipation at the hand of Lincoln himself would be learned by both. Inspired to share the untold portion of Archer’s life that had not been previously shared, work on the book and screenplay for The Untold Story of An American Hero- Archer Alexander is underway.
Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America
In 1833, two university students from Giessen, Germany, Friedrich Muench and Paul Follenius, decided to immigrate to America and settle in the west. They wanted to create a German utopia in Missouri, and they recruited others to join them by distributing throughout Germany a promotional pamphlet detailing their ambitious plans. The resulting participants spanned various religions, cities, and villages and called themselves the Giessen Emigration Society. By July of 1934, each member had settled along the Missouri River, forming a vibrant German segment of the state whose cultural footprint can still be seen and felt today.
In the bilingual book Utopia, this story is brought to life through more than two hundred historic photographs and documents and contributions from both Americans and Germans. The book accompanies a traveling exhibit that will begin in Germany and travel to the German-American Heritage Museum in Washington, DC, and then land in St. Louis at the Missouri History Museum, following the path of the Germans who immigrated to America so many years ago. Utopia serves as both an exhibition catalog and as a historical narrative of the Giessen Emigration Society.
1833, when Warren County was officially created by the State of Missouri, its pages of history were already filled with the lives of famous people. It would become the final resting place of American pioneer and trailblazer Daniel Boone after the Spanish government promised him land in return for bringing settlers. In 1804, when Lewis and Clark and their corps visited, it was the last settlement of whites in the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. This led German-born writer Gottfried Duden to come and see what made this area so appealing to the American pioneers. He returned to his homeland and in 1829 published A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America, filled with glowing descriptions of a promised land. His book opened the floodgates of German immigrants coming to this nation in the 1830s, and by 1850 nine out of ten residents were German born or of German descent–the largest concentration of German Americans in the state.
I find the best things when I am lost.
Discovery happens when we open our minds and allow new stories in.