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THEIR STORIES: Capeless Crusaders




There are so many heroes of St. Louis. Many with names we might never know....

Those with different backgrounds who came together to fight together. Different levels of oppression. Different levels of privilege. The woman who stood up for her neighbor in the grocery store. The kind man who gave a neighbor a ride to work that snow-stormy morning, who would've lost his job and had it twice as hard finding another one. Those who risked their lives and freedoms to aid and abet courageous runaways.

But some we do know..... and we celebrate them.

For standing up front and center, at all costs.

For no excuses...

For not hiding...

For not waiting...

Our Gratitude. :)


William Henry Davis (Entrepreneur)

  • William Henry Davis was the son of slave parents James and Sarry Davis.

  • In 1886, Davis opened a grocery store at the southeast corner of Leffingwell and Montgomery Street.

  • One of his 1st customers was Father Moses Dickson while helping feed fleeing refugees in the Underground Railroad.

  • He established the first (Negro) steam laundry in St. Louis. (It was destroyed by the cyclone of 1896 ending the business.)

  • Lost his eyesight while operating the Presto Toilet Manufacturing Company, but still managed his grocery store.

  • Also worked with the Pushkin Printing Company.

Other Accomplishments:

***East Gate Lodge No 38



***City and County Baptist Association (helped) which he later named as Berean Baptist Association

***The first B.T.U. in the United States


Emily Parsons

Civil War (Union) Nurse Wrote all about it in letters back home to Massachusetts (published posthumously in a memoir called "Fearless Purpose"). During childhood, an accident left her blind in one eye and scarlet fever left her partially deaf. Because of an ankle injury she suffered as a young woman, she was unable to stand for prolonged periods of time. Came to St. Louis in January 1863. When she arrived, the city was crowded with sick and wounded soldiers, and available buildings were quickly being converted to hospitals. She was assigned to the Lawson Hospital. Then to a hospital steamship, "City of Alton", which traveled down the Mississippi River. At Vicksburg, Mississippi, four hundred invalid soldiers were brought on board the ship, most of them sick with fever, many of them past recovery, and returned as far as Memphis, Tennessee. Black men and women escaping slavery were also brought on board. [Wikipedia] After recovering from malaria, she was put in charge of the Benton Barracks Hospital (now St. Louis Fairground Park), the largest hospital in the American West, with 2,000 patients. Helped train the women of the Colored Ladies Aid Society. Worked with MARY MEACHUM! Died in Massachusetts in 1880.


Herman Dreer (Educator)

Herman Dreer was born in 1888 in Washington, D.C. He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1910. He taught at Virginia Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia and while there, received an Latin Theology. In 1912 he married one of his students, Mary Thomas.

Dreer came to St. Louis in 1914 and taught History, English, Greek, German, chemistry and sociology at Sumner High School and the normal school. Concerned over the lack of higher education for blacks in St. Louis, he established Douglas University in 1935. Dreer stressed the study of Afro-American history and was a life member of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He supported the establishment of Stowe Teachers' College for blacks in 1940 and worked for the integration of Washington University in 1948. He researched and helped finance the Shelley vs Kramer civil rights case as chair of the Citizens Committee--Shelley Restrictive Covenant Case in 1947. He was an assistant principal of Sumner High School for fourteen years and left administration to teach at Stowe Teachers' College and Harris-Stowe College. He retired from Harris-Stowe at the mandatory age of 70 and taught a university in Salinas, Kansas and at McMurray College in Jackson, Illinois.

In 1955 he received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago. He wrote his dissertation of "Negro Leadership in St. Louis: A Study in Race Relations." He interviewed white and black St. Louisans to ascertain the most influential black leaders and compiled questionnaires on over fifty St. Louis blacks for his dissertation.

As an educator and historian, Dreer published articles in the Journal of Negro History: Neqro History Bulletin, Crisis, and Opportunity. He edited the Masonic Journal of St. Louis, the St. Louis Tribune, and The Oracle, the publication of Omega Psi Fraternity. At the request of McMillan Publishing Company, he compiled an anthology of Negro literature, American Literature by Neqro Authors (1950). He wrote two novels, The Immediate Jewel of His Soul (1919), and The Tie That Binds (1958). He also wrote poems and plays and helped organize the first Black theater group in St. Louis. From 1967-1975 he wrote a weekly column on black history for the St. Louis Argus. Dreer was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Knights of Pythias, Prince Hall Lodge, and the Booker T. Washington Trading Stamp Association.

He was the minister of King's Way Baptist Church from 1950-1970.

Dreer died in August 1981 at the age of 92.

Papers, 1933-1976

19 Folders, 1 Microfilm Roll

This collection is available at The State Historical Society of Missouri

If you would like more information, please contact


Annie Malone Turnbo Pope (Entrepreneur, Philanthropist)

Annie Malone was born in Illinois and orphaned shortly after. She was raised by her older sister in Peoria, Illinois. Malone fell in love with cosmetology and made it her life mission to make a living doing hair. After seeing the damage African American women by using animal by products on their hair she created her own hair products in her home in Brooklyn, Illinois. After hearing there would be a World's Fair in nearby St. Louis she decided to come here in 1902 to sell her products at the fair. However, the fair was delayed so she traveled through the South selling her products. Upon returning to St. Louis, she took her newfound sales skills to the streets and to the local black press. By 1924, newspapers were reporting that she had become the First Black Female Millionaire, worth over $14 million.


Homer Garland Phillips (Activist)

  • Born in 1880 (Smithton near Sedalia, MO) on April 1, 1879

  • In 1918, the Phillips were living at 2335 Market Street - MILL CREEK

  • He lived in the house at 4524 Cottage with Ida his wife, and John Alexander, his father in‐law.

  • At the time of his death in 1931, he lived at 1121 Aubert Avenue in the Fountain Park neighborhood.

  • Helped open the hospital for the African American community in St. Louis.

  • Shot by George McFarland (18) and Augustus Brooks (19) over a lawsuit and died June 18, 1931 - BOTH FOUND NOT GUILTY

  • Moved to St. Louis ("on the eve") of the Worlds Fair

  • Married Ida Perle Alexander (actress and soprano)

  • In 1916, after St. Louis became the 1st city to pass mandatory housing segregation laws, he fought against the referendum.

  • His funeral at St. Paul AME (Leffingwell & Lawton) was attended by tens of thousands” of mourners, among them were the most prominent African American leaders and many white politicians, judges and attorneys.


"Negro invasion is danger far greater than fire or flood or tornado. It is imperative that we forestall this danger."


James Milton Turner

James Milton Turner was born a slave in 1840. Later, as a child, he was sold on the steps of the St Louis US Courthouse for $50 (~ $1500). His father, John Turner, was a "horse doctor" who was allowed to keep some of his earnings and purchase freedom for himself and his family. He was one of John Meachum's students, attending the Freedom School on a steamboat on the Mississippi River, had set up to evade the 1854 law against education.

He also worked to help freed blacks in Cherokee, Shawnee and Delaware.

JS Walsh once described, after hearing him speak, that he was one of the best public speakers he ever heard.

Milton Turner (close personal friends with Frederick Douglas) reluctantly aided the Exoduster movement in 1878.

He was buried in Father Dickson Cemetery in Crestwood. Turner School in the Kirkwood District was named in his honor.


Elijah Lovejoy left his strict Christian household in Maine to save souls in the West. After arriving in the four year old town of Hillsboro, Montgomery County in southern Illinois he saw little opportunity to save the heathens he observed there and decided to save souls in St. Louis instead.

  • In 1832, after hearing the Rev. David Nelson preach a revival over several weeks at the First Presbyterian Church, he had the personal conversion experience he had long prayed for. He also was attracted a second message preached by Nelson—the moral necessity of ending slavery.

  • After relocating to St. Louis he created the St. Louis Observer. In his very first issue he established a reputation as an extremist and a bigot when he excoriated Catholicism and Papism with vitriolic language. In St. Louis, a former French and Spanish provincial capital, there was a large Catholic population and there had been a general toleration of religious differences as the city had grown.

He preached against alcohol, Sabbath breaking, and profanity, and slavery. He denounced imposing abolition, instead hoping that argument and religious conversion would change the hearts of slave holders who would see the error of their ways and free their slaves. Despite the moderation of this stance, it still outraged the Southern dominated city.

  • After fleeing to Alton for safety after his printing presses were continuously destroyed, the small town offered him a conditional welcome. He promised them his paper would be purely civic and Christian.

  • In January 1837, the new Alton Observer began publication. The very first issue contained a blistering attack on slavery and slavery apologists.

  • In the spring of 1837, he called on the citizens of the town to sign a state petition to abolish slavery. He urged protests in town pressing an anti-slavery message. While pleading for his safety and freedom of speech he said:

"I, Mr. Chairman, have not desired, or asked any compromise. I have asked for nothing but to be protected in my rights as a citizen--rights which God has given me, and which are guaranteed to me by the constitution of my country. Have I, sir, been guilty of any infraction of the laws? Whose good name have I injured? When, and where, have I published anything injurious to the reputation of Alton?Have I not, on the other hand, labored, in common with the rest of my fellow-citizens, to promote the reputation and interests of this City? What, sir, I ask, has been my offence? Put your finger upon it—define it—and I stand ready to answer for it. If I have committed any crime, you can easily convict me. You have public sentiment in your favor. You have juries, and you have your attorney, and I have no doubt you can convict me. But if I have been guilty of no violation of law, why am I hunted up and down continually like a partridge upon the mountains? Why am I threatened with the tar-barrel? Why am I waylaid every day, and from night to night, and my life in jeopardy every hour?


Ivory Perry


Charlton Tandy

  • Moved to St. Louis at the age of 21

  • In 1879, Tandy was the first St. Louisan to aid the Exodusters, African American migrants who were leaving the post-Reconstruction South for homes in Kansas.

  • After the penniless refugees arrived in St. Louis from homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, Tandy organized the Colored Refugee Relief Board.

  • For the next two years the group fed, clothed, housed, and bought passage to Kansas for approximately 10,000 migrants.

  • In addition, Tandy publicized the Exodusters’ plight, by speaking in New York, Boston, and other cities, meeting with President Rutherford B. Hayes, and testifying before Congress.

  • Tandy died in St. Louis in 1919. In 1938 Charlton Tandy Community Center and Park in St. Louis was named for him.

  • A respected hard-working member of the St. Louis African American community, Charlton Tandy was a Civil War veteran, well known speaker and Republican who worked as a messenger in the St Louis customs house, a job that testifies to his political connections in Kentucky.

  • He was born in 1836 to parents who were free because his grandparents had purchased the family's freedom 3 years before his birth. 75 years later, he still carried his yellowing freedom papers with him.

  • His family worked to free slaves through the Underground Railroad and as a young man Tandy led slaves on the route from Covington, Kentucky to freedom in Cincinnati, Ohio.

  • Tandy moved to St. Louis in 1857 to work on the Underground Railroad. When the Civil War began he became a post messenger at Jefferson Barracks which proved good for Tandy as he was chosen as Captain to lead his own guard of African American militiamen that he recruited. He carried the title of captain for the rest of his life. The militia was charged with helping defend St Louis in a confederate attack. This service earned him notice of several political leaders and after the war he even received recognition from Ulysses S Grant.Tandy once said:"But as for sitting at the table with white men, I've had the pleasure of being there with the best in the land. I once lunched with President Grant, and in 1870 dined with Governor Crittenden and Senator Cockrell in Warrensburg."

  • In 1867, Tandy fought against the segregation of streetcars in Wellston when African Americans were not allowed to sit or stand inside the cars, and were forced to stand outside on the platform or walk. Legislation changed due to the Republican needing the vote of the African American community and Tandy's efforts. Tandy would often grab hold of the reins of the streetcar horses and refuse to let them go until the conductors allowed African-Americans to ride inside the car. They would sometimes fight with him and he was arrested three times for these protests. However, his political affiliations paid off when prominent businessmen and politicians bailed him out of jail. Wellston, the entrepreneur who introduced the streetcar to St Louis and was serving as congressman from Missouri at the time was obliged to appear on Tandy's behalf when the two allies agreed to boycott all other streetcar lines and use Wells' exclusively. Wells argued in court that Tandy was in the right and that his streetcars would permit African Americans to sit anywhere they wanted.

  • 30 years after the boycott, a streetcar conductor tripped Mrs. Annie Tandy as she was exiting exiting a streetcar. She broke two ribs, got various bruises and damaged her hearing. The Tandy's sued and won the case ($600).


Judge D. P. Dyer (Helps stop segregation)

  • David Patterson Dyer

  • February 12, 1838 – April 29, 1924

  • Union Veteran

  • Prosecuted the Whiskey Ring

The article below read:

The segregation ordinances which were passed by a popular vote of the people of this city on Feb 29th last were virtually killed by a decision handed down by Judge DP Dyer in the United States court here last Monday. As was exclusively predicted in last weeks issue of the ARGUS, a sweeping victory was gained by the plaintiffs. A large number of colored people both men and women were present and when the decision was rendered a sigh of relive was manifested. The attorneys for the plaintiff made a strong appeal against the ordinance led by Col WH Blodgett, while Associate City Counselor Paul Griffin appeared for the city.

In the most eloquent language Judge Dyer handed down the following decision:

The Court: “I have listened with much interest to all that has been said here. The debate has taken a very wide range. Practically there is but one legal question before the Court for decision and that question is the validity of the two ordinances in question. That being true, it is also true, as counsel has said, that the courts feelings personally should have nothing to do with determining this one question. Judges are very much like other people. They all try to do right and they try to administer justice.

“Nine years ago on this bench I took an oath. One of its provisions was that you solemnly swear that you will administer justice to the rich and poor alike.’ I have tried hard to live up to the obligation of that oath. I know I have made my mistakes and have fallen far short of what probably would be counted a learned judge, but I have tried to do justice between man and man.

“Allusion has been made by counsel here to the fact that I have lived in this state a long time. For more than seventy years I have resided within sixty miles of where I sit today Mu father came to this state from old Virginia where I was born and settled in Lincoln country in 1841. He was the owner of Negroes I was raised with Negroes but as God is my judge I have tried always all my life to be just to them, and God giving me help I will continue on to the end.

“I have heard all this talk about intermarriage and miscegenation and all of that fifty years ago. Arguments were then made for the purpose of wearing men out of their wits by an appeal to their prejudices. These arguments, if they may be called such, were made when the question of emancipation was up; it was the contention then that ultimately it would lead to intermarriage between the races. I believed that it will not do anything of the kind then, and believe so now. Negroes do not ask for equality; whites do not ask for it; the negroes only ask to have the same privileges as other have the same rights under the las was other have. The plaintiffs are Negroes born in the united states; they are taxpayers of the city of St. Louis by virtue of which they are entitled under the constitution to the same legal rights as any white native born or any foreign born naturalized citizen of the united states. I would not be doing my duty if I hesitated to deal out equal justice to every one alike.

“These ordinances I have heretofore considered. As a citizen I examined them with care, and as a citizen I cast my vote against them, and, in my judgement not form particularly today, but formed before I exercised my right to vote, I believe that these ordinances are void and illegal ant that the police power claimed here cannot deprive a man of using the money made by the sweat of his brow in buying property wherever the property owner will sell it, and when he does buy it, he has a right, under the constitution and the laws, and as long as property is not made a nuisance. Everybody knows, we all know and regret it, that not only among Negroes, but among white people there are communities which are no credit to the localities in which they exist, but I know some of the more reputable men that are to be found anywhere are found in this city among the colored people. I speak of that because of the argument made here about the police power being sufficient to deprive a man of his property, deprive him of the bread that he makes. I have heard that before, it did not affect me then and it does not affect me now.

“I shall grant here a temporary injunction restrain the enforcement of these ordinances, and I only say temporary for the reason that it has been stated that there is a case involving a like question now before the Supreme Court of the United States.

“As I said at the beginning, knowing this case was coming I wrote to the clerk of the Supreme Court for a copy of the record in the case pending there. And of the briefs filed by counsel in the case. I have examined it in the light of these ordinances here, but being desirous of not taking any action in issues on which the Supreme Court is to pass, and whose decision it is my duty and the duty of every other citizen of the United State to acquiesce in, I will make this injunction temporary; otherwise but for the pendency of that case I would make it permanent.

“The order will be that these injunctions as prayed for in these bills will be granted, a continuing order until the further order of this Court.” (The St. Louis Argus, 1916)


Judge D.P. Dyer opens the April term of federal court in the morning. In a well-directed, but happy speech, he serves notice he has no intention of abandoning the bench just because he has served 10 years on that bench and now is eligible to retire on three-fourths pay. (Southeast Missourian)


Mary Meachum


February 19, 1854 - the death of her husband, John

May 21, 1855 - after an attempt to ferry nine enslaved people across the Mississippi River to freedom in Illinois, Meachum and a freedman named Isaac were arrested for breaking the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

May 24, 1854 - she was charged in court with slave theft, while charges against Isaac were dropped.

July 19, 1855 - The Missouri Republican reported that Mary was tried by a jury and acquitted of at least one charge, and the remaining charges were dropped.

One scholar says Meachum was sold into slavery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, after her arrest.

December 17, 1864 - Daily Missouri Democrat reported that Meachum was president of the Colored Ladies Soldiers' Aid Society in St. Louis.

Because blacks were not allowed to ride streetcars at that time, the women negotiated with the streetcar company to ride the streetcar one day a week, on Saturdays, to the segregated wing of the Benton Barracks Hospital of St. Louis, where wounded black soldiers were hospitalized. There, the women read to the soldiers, comforted them, and taught them to read.

The white nurse in charge of the hospital, Emily Parsons, wrote of her outrage that the women were limited to only one day a week and described them as "intelligent colored women, ladies in fact, many of them well educated and wealthy."

Meachum died in St. Louis in August 1869.

She is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. [Wikipedia]


John Berry Meachum ​​


John Berry Meachum, founding pastor of the 500+ member, African Baptist Church in St. Louis, purchased and freed 20 black slaves who were non-family members in the 1840s and 1850s.

He and his wife facilitated the Underground Railroad through their home and their church.

He built a school upon his steamship, which he moored in the middle of the federally-owned Mississippi River for black children to be educated.

One of his skiffs ferried these students to and from school each day (education being illegal in Missouri after an 1847 statute was passed).

Among his students was James Milton Turner, founder of black public schools in Missouri after the Civil War. One such school in Meachum Park, Missouri, was named in his honor, "J. Milton Turner Elementary School". []