happens twice they say: once tragedy, then again as farce. Never more
so than under the Arch. In July 1964, Percy Green II climbed the Arch
to protest the all-white work crews building it. In July this year,
an all-white ribbon-cutting ceremony suggested that the lesson of
Green’s protest continues to elude many.
one views the all-white opening as a misstep or as a symptom of a
deeper malignancy, there should be no excuse for forgetting black St.
Louis while memorializing the city’s past. Some reminders are in
African-American history of St. Louis goes well beyond Dred Scott.
Too often it has been buried by the city’s efforts to reconstruct
itself as a tourist-friendly destination city.
far from the site of the Arch, in the antebellum period, sat the
city’s largest slave pen, owned by the notorious trader Bernard
Lynch. Thousands of enslaved men, women and children passed through
its gates on their way “down the river.”
them was William Wells Brown, the first African-American novelist. Of
the slave market in St. Louis, Brown wrote, “I shall never forget a
scene which took place in the city. A man and his wife were brought
for sale. The man was first put up, and sold to the highest bidder.
The wife was next ordered to ascend the platform. She slowly obeyed
the order. The auctioneer commenced, and soon several hundred dollars
were bid. Her cheeks were wet with tears.”
remnants of Lynch’s slave pen today lie beneath Ballpark Village.
No marker memorializes those who were sold there.
blocks to the north and a bit to the west lies the site of what was
arguably the first lynching in U.S. history. On April 28, 1836,
Francis McIntosh, a free black man, was walking along the levee when
he was accosted and taken into custody by a pair of policemen. There
was a struggle, and one of the officers was killed. McIntosh briefly
escaped before being taken into custody and placed in a cell. A group
of white men soon broke McIntosh out, and dragged him up Chestnut
Street. They tied him to a tree, built a fire beneath his feet, and
burned him to death.
the members of the mob were well-known to many observers, no one was
ever indicted for the murder.
lynching of McIntosh occasioned Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1838
“Lyceum Address,” which remains one of the most pointed and
eloquent defenses of the rule of law in American history. Worse than
the fact that McIntosh had been arrested without cause, for Lincoln,
was the fact that he had been put to death by a mob without a trial.
“This mobocratic spirit,” he wrote, would cause best Americans to
lose faith in their government. “Whenever the vicious portion of
the population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds ...
and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure and with impunity,
depend on it: this government cannot last.”
Lincoln the key to preserving political liberty was historical
memory. As the Revolutionary generation died, he argued, the values
they had fought for were in danger of being forgotten. To replenish
the nation’s commitment to the rule of law, Lincoln argued,
required daily remembrance: “Let reverence for the laws, be
breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles
on her lap — let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in
colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in
Almanacs.” Reminders everywhere.
the corner of Seventh and Chestnut, where Francis McIntosh suffered
and died, there sits today a Hooters.
history — the uprising in Ferguson, the protests that followed the
acquittal of Jason Stockley — has presumably made many whites wary
of reopening the city’s troubled racial past. But remembrance of
the city’s long history of struggle and violence should be a
central element of its urban fabric. There are plenty of obvious
places to begin: with Percy Green II at the base of the Arch; with
the un-numbered martyrs at the corner of Broadway and Clark, and with
Francis McIntosh at the corner of Chestnut and Seventh.