The St. Louis Black History Tour

The African American Experience through St. Louis Museums

Africans originally came to this country not as immigrants seeking religious freedom or economic opportunity but as property, transported under unthinkable conditions aboard slave ships, condemned to a life of involuntary servitude. The Griot Museum of Black History not only tells this dark chapter in American history, but celebrates the lives and accomplishments of prominent African Americans with a Missouri connection, like George Washington Carver, Miles Davis, Josephine Baker, Dred and Harriet Scott and many others.

Griot Museum of Black History

Dred and Harriet Scott, slaves whose suit for freedom went all the way to the Supreme Court, are featured prominently in the Field House Museum. The 1845, three-story structure was originally preserved as the childhood home of Eugene Field, the “Children’s Poet,” but the museum's narrative has recently expanded to include Eugene's father, Roswell, who formulated the legal strategy that took the Scotts' suit to the Supreme Court. The Scotts argued that since they had traveled to a "free" state, they were entitled to emancipation. The Supreme Court, however, ruled in 1857 that blacks, free or slave, were not and never could be citizens of the U.S. and were therefore unable to petition for freedom. The decision helped foment the Civil War.

Harriet and Dred Scott in the Field House Museum

The suit for the Scotts' freedom was initiated at the Old Courthouse, on whose steps slaves were once sold. Now a museum—part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which includes the Gateway Arch—the Old Courthouse (1839-1862) features restored courtrooms, exhibits relocated from the now-closed Museum of Westward Expansion and the beautifully decorated dome.

The interior dome at the Old Courthouse

The Missouri Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks is the state’s largest educational complex dedicated exclusively to the study of Missouri’s role in the war that the Dred Scott Decision helped precipitate, utilizing thousands of artifacts, documents and weapons to explain Missouri's complicated role in the Civil War.

Missouri Civil War Museum

An exhibit on view through April 15, 2018, at the Missouri History Museum, "#1 in Civil Rights: The African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis," makes the case for the city's leading role in the Civil Rights struggle, from Dred Scott to Ferguson.

#1 in Civil Rights: The African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis at the Missouri History Museum

A historic home just west of downtown celebrates one of the most influential figures in popular music. The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site is the only building in existence where the ragtime king is known to have composed some of his famous melodies. The downstairs museum traces the composer’s life and career; the upstairs apartment has been furnished to reflect the period.

Scott Joplin House State Historic Site

African Americans have made tremendous contributions to the world of music, from ragtime to hip hop. The National Blues Museum contains 16,000 square feet of interactive exhibition space tracing the history and world-wide impact of the blues, as it began life among poor blacks in the Mississippi delta and bubbled up the river from New Orleans to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and beyond. The museum includes a 100-seat theater, a calendar of public programming, a record-your-original-blues-riff interactive element, traveling exhibits and frequent live performances.

National Blues Museum

David Lancaster
About the author

David Lancaster has been editor of Where St. Louis...