February is Black History Month, and a very important part of black history took place right in downtown St. Louis at The Old Courthouse. This historic landmark, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, was the site of the first two trials of the pivotal Dred Scott slavery case in 1847 and 1850.
Hundreds of suits for freedom took place at The Old Courthouse, but this one gained the most notoriety. Dred Scott and his wife Harriet sued for and were granted their freedom. After many appeals, the case was decided upon by the Supreme Court, which stated that slaves were property, and as such, had no right to sue. The Dred Scott Decision hastened the start of the Civil War.
The Old Courthouse is listed in the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network To Freedom, recognizing sites, programs and facilities with verifiable associations to the Underground Railroad. It was a public forum as well as a courthouse and slaves were auctioned from its steps in estate settlements.
Give your kids a truly engaging, up-close and local lesson in black history at a special exhibit, Dred Scott, Slavery and The Struggle to Be Free, currently on display in the Rotunda of the Old Courthouse. The exhibit describes several aspects of African-American society and culture, from slavery to free black business owners to the "colored aristocracy" of rich landowners.
The Historic Old Courthouse is located at 11 North Fourth Street, just west of the Gateway Arch and is open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Amy Burger is a mom, freelance writer and communications professional with nearly 20 years experience working in St. Louis. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and media outlets including STL Parent, Missouri Life magazine, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Town & Style and kdhx.org, among others. When she's not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two beautiful girls at home in Kirkwood.
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