This Thursday, Jan. 11, marks 153 years since slaves in Missouri were finally freed from bondage. Missouri’s Emancipation Day will be commemorated at the Missouri History Museum, in a collaborative event between the museum and Greenwood Cemetery.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the event at the Missouri History Museum, which will highlight the lives before and after emancipation of six individuals buried in Greenwood Cemetery, located in Hillsdale.
Joining the discussion were Shakia Gullette, manager of local history initiatives at Missouri History Museum, Etta Daniels, head historian at Greenwood Cemetery and Marvin-Alonzo Greer, visitor experience lead at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.
Greenwood Cemetery opened in 1874, shortly after the end of the civil war. It opened as the first commercial cemetery dedicated to the burial of African-Americans in the St. Louis area. Since its establishment, Daniels said more than 50,000 people have been buried at the site.
“Many of our burials, particularly the earlier ones, were formerly enslaved persons,” Daniels said. The research efforts go pretty deep, citing burial records dating back to 1874, military records and ancestor records, she said.
“We get a sense of everyday, ordinary people, which in turn gives us a picture of the society they lived in,” she said. Six people buried at the site will be featured in the event at the Missouri History Museum.
Gullette previously lived in Maryland, where she said people celebrated Maryland’s Emancipation Day. She said she wanted to establish that in Missouri.
“When I heard the research that was happening at Greenwood, I just thought it was a perfect marriage, to highlight the research they’re already doing and merge it with our records and our research collection and create this wonderful program,” Gullette said.
The event will try to describe the lives of six people and give the audience a sense of what it what was like during emancipation. Greer said Missouri had multiple emancipation days due to its status as a border state, where Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not apply.
“That didn’t mean enslaved individuals did not take it upon themselves to liberate themselves,” Greer said. “Missouri is unique of having 1861 freedom date, 1863 freedom date, and then 1865 freedom date.”
Greer emphasized the importance of showcasing African-American history, specifically in St. Louis, since that information is often lost.
“To be able to take an average person … give them a face, give them words and then be able to showcase that for a family like their descendants that still are in St. Louis today is a great honor,” he said.
Listen to the full discussion:
What: Missouri History Museum Presents "Voices from the Grave with Greenwood Cemetery"
When: 7 p.m., Jan. 11
Where: Missouri History Museum, in Forest Park, 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.