Mary Meachum | St. Louis Public Radio

Mary Meachum

Angela da Silva discussed the many ways in which racism, segregation and prejudice showed up at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition that took place in St. Louis at the beginning of the 20th century.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s debate about some of the stories associated with the international event that had St. Louis buzzing more than a century ago, such as whether the 1904 World’s Fair was really the point at which ice cream and other treats were invented.

But one thing that historians do know for sure about the seven-month-long spectacle is that it was marked by blatant racism.

On June 14, 1897, Lt. James Moss, U.S. Army, led his bicycle corps of the 25th Infantry, from Fort Missoula, Montana, up a wagon trail and Indian path, to St. Louis, arriving  on July 16, 1897.
Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons

More than a century ago, in 1897, U.S. Army soldiers road bicycles 1,900 miles, from Fort Missoula, Montana to St. Louis.

The 20 soldiers who made the trip were part of the 25th Infantry, a racially-segregated group known as Buffalo Soldiers. The term refers to black soldiers who served west of the Mississippi River in regiments initially formed in 1866, after the end of the Civil War.

“It was a very exciting event,” Angela da Silva, a historian and adjunct professor at Lindenwood University, told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh.

Lindenwood professor Angela da Silva organized the May, 9 2015 Mary Meachum celebration. She poses here with an Abe Lincoln reenactor so in character that he wouldn't acknowledge any other name.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

An annual celebration remembering St. Louis’ participation in the Underground Railroad had added meaning this year. The 12th Mary Meachum event on Saturday also marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Held on the banks of the Mississippi where free black woman Mary Meachum tried to lead slaves across the river to freedom in Illinois, this year’s historical remembrance was billed as “The Great Jubilation” — a re-enactment of the days in the spring of 1865 when enslaved St. Louisans learned the war was over and they were free.

Nora Ibrahim

On the 159th anniversary of Mary Meachum's attempted crossing of the Mississippi River — from what was at the time the slave state of Missouri to the free state Illinois — St. Louis residents, local groups and officials gathered at the crossing site to announce plans for a permanent monument. For many of those who attended, it marks 15 years of hard work to get the site more widely recognized. 

(via Wikimedia Commons)

The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, will be turned into a Civil War training camp tomorrow at the 11th annual Freedom Crossing Event Celebration.

Unidentified soldier at Benton Barracks in 1863
Library of Congress

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: What was Fairgrounds Park like in 1863? 24,000 men were on the grounds of what was known as Benton Barracks in the largest Union Army training camp in Missouri during the Civil War and the largest African-American recruitment and induction site from Ohio to California.