I am deeply inspired by the love and compassion of the St. Louis community of 1879.
In reading THE ST. LOUIS AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY AND THE EXODUS by Bryan Jack, he was able to transport me back to the riverbanks of downtown St. Louis, almost 140 years ago. And I am proud. Below is the retelling of this amazing story,
so wonderfully illustrated and researched by Bryan Jack
that it doesn't need to be retold.....just shared.
Early in March 1879, a group of 250 Exodusters appeared on the snowy St. Louis wharf, and as they descended the gangplank of the crowded packet boat, they shivered in the cold damp March air. Carrying their few possessions and unsure of their next step, the men, women, and children braced themselves against the chill. Dressed in tattered, lightweight clothes more appropriate for summer cotton picking than for winter travel, they were thrust into the bustling city landscape of St. Louis.
Entering St. Louis possessing little more than the clothes on their backs and what goods they could carry, they resembled refugees from war more than homesteaders. Andrew Pollard, a former state senator from Mississippi who joined the Exodus later spoke to members of the St. Louis community and insisted that the Exodusters were not a colony and were not emigrants. They were instead, in his words, "refugees, fleeing from bondage." As refugees, they were not expected to be as fully equipped as colonists. Instead, they looked like people who had picked up everything they could carry and escaped. One observer to The Scribner: "Their wearing apparel was, as been hinted, scant and threadbare; scores of men were without coats or a change of shirts; most of the women had but one frock each and no wraps or stockings; half the children were barefoot and clad only in single cotton garments."
Such conditions led to health problems; approximately six weeks into the Exodus a health report stated that dozens of Exodusters were suffering from bronchitis, malarial fever, diarrhea, pneumonia, dysentery, and measles. Lack of proper clothing,, shelter, and nutrition caused Exodusters to die by the hundreds.
Exodusters on Levee in St. Louis
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The Exodus was a movement of families, and sometimes the Exodusters arrived in family size groups. However, often there were dozens, and even hundreds, landing together on the St. Louis riverfront. In one instance, 200 travelers from a Baptist church in Delta, Louisiana migrated together. Most Exodusters would camp along the banks of the Mississippi River waiting to be picked up by northern bound riverboats. Many were confident a government sponsored riverboat would provide their deliverance. The Exodusters would wait in vain for a government vessel, instead relying on being picked up by private boats. Many boats passed them by. One report stated that during the last week of April, nearly 2,000 Exodusters waiting on the riverbank watched riverboat after riverboat pass by. The long wait [in the bitter cold] made many of them suffer from exposure, also due to their scant provisions.
Sitting on the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers,
St. Louis was the "pivot of the trip,
the point where a trip northward became a trip westward."
A simple riverboat ride on the Missouri River across the state to
Wyandote, Kansas, would complete the Exodusters' journey.
Unfortunately, many of the Kansas Fever Exodusters
landed in St. Louis without the ability to pay for the last leg of the trip.
Charlton Tandy watched the approximately 250 Exodusters milling around in the snow on the St. Louis riverfront on March 12, 1879. Tandy noted the winter weather and the desperate condition of the men, women and children on the levee. Tandy immediately began finding them housing for the night. He spent the rest of the day asking friends and acquaintances to take some Exodusters in while finding others positions in various businesses. For some, the best Tandy could do on such short notice was find them shelter on wharf boats, which at least, got them out of freezing conditions. Tandy would spend much of the next two years continuing and expanding the work he began on that cold afternoon.
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.
Tandy was born in 1836 to parents who were free because his grandparents had purchased the family's freedom 3 years before his birth. 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 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."
Tandy tried to get help from the Mullanphy Board, an Irish charity set up for homeless men, women and children. He felt that the Exodusters were entitled as they were also homeless men, women, and children. After being denied, he went to see the board president, Mr. Scruggs. He made a personal appeal to him by staring him in the eye. When Scruggs asked him why he was staring at him Tandy replied:
"I'm reading the contour of the expression of your face,
and I propose, sir, to direct my remarks directly to you,
because I think I can approach you
and get some help for these men that are in a suffering condition."
Under Tandy's stare Scruggs relented and recommended they allow Tandy to speak. The Mullanphy Board ended up donating $100 to the Exodusters. The money went to one Exoduster, Mr. Frederick.
Seeing that he would not get aid from local charities after his attempts at the Mullanphy Board were disappointing, he turned to the African-American community for help. He knew that the community was willing to help. His friends, and others in the community, had been housing and feeding the Exodusters since their arrival. Tandy, in a circular on March 14th appealing to the responsibilities of the African American community, wrote:
"We, the undersigned, realizing the immediate necessity
of some actions being taken to make provision
for the temporary relief of our race, known as emigrants,
passing through our city on their way seeking homes in the Far West;
and whereas, their destitute condition demands the attention
of those who are in sympathy with suffering humanity.
We do hereby call for a mass meeting of our citizens."
The circular connects the fleeing families, the St. Louis African-American community and citizenship, and reinforces the idea that the relief should be temporary, as the Exodusters' goal was to move beyond St Louis.
On March 16th, the "Grand Tower" steamer landed in St. Louis with 500 - 600 more desperate Exodusters. This was the third group to arrive within 3 weeks. Those with means to do so went to Kansas, but hundreds remained in St. Louis needing help. There were thousands of migrants still waiting along the river for transportation. A local newspaper stated that it was apparent that the previous 250 Exodusters were an advance guard of a larger larger movement to come. In light of this new information it was imperative the African American community meet to decide how to handle their arrival.
Tandy organized his meeting through the African-American churches. And on March 17th, the meeting was held at St. Paul's Chapel (African Methodist Episcopal Church), a congregation established in 1841, in the church built in 1871 entirely by African-Americans.
The congregation of 1,200 people made it the largest African-American church in the city. The church became a center for organization, relief, and protest. They provided space, money, volunteers, and perhaps more importantly, encouragement to the Exodusters and those helping them. The activists in these churches came to be known as the "Committee of Twenty-Five".
Hundreds attended the meeting, electing two secretaries, a treasurer, two vice presidents, and Tandy as the president; of them customs house clerk and attorney, John Johnson, tobacco contractor, John W. Wheeler, Minister Moses Dickson, and Reverend John Turner. In St. Louis, churches were long established and ministers like Moses Dickson were community and political leaders for years. These churches would provide the community resources necessary to undertake the this task
Moses Dickson was Tandy's ally. Dickson joined James Milton Turner in 1865 to become two of the forces behind the Missouri Equal Rights League. Dickson was an Underground Railroad organizer and founded The Knights of Liberty, an organization dedicated to ending slavery.
Born free in 1824, he became a barber at 16, and spent three years traveling the South to view slavery up close. He saw his Exodus relief work as a continuation of his abolitionism.
After moving to St. Louis in 1846, Dickson called together 12 men he met during his tour of the South. At a house on the corner of Green (now Lucas Avenue) and 7th Streets, he explained to his men his plan for creating an organization dedicated to freeing the slaves in the south. The men who were from South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee were to go home and recruit men brave enough for a rebellion. In St. Louis, Dickson organized the movement of the Underground Railroad while his disciples recruited followers for the uprising to take place in 1856. He was also instrumental in the Missouri Equal Rights League fighting for African American suffrage. Dickson was the most prominent member. Considered Missouri's first black political activist movement, League members fought for legal equality, placing great emphasis on education and voting. After voting was denied to African Americans in Missouri, several hundred African Americans gathered in St. Louis to meet. (At that meeting the speakers included 26 year-old James Milton Turner in his first public role as a leader. He would later become a minister to Liberia.)
Andrew Pollard, the former state senator of Louisiana, who was not in St. Louis voluntarily spoke at the meeting. In Louisiana, Pollard had been using his two teams to haul the Exodusters' luggage to the "Grand Tower" when a band of armed white men cocked their guns and commanded him to board the boat with the others. Although he protested, they forced him on the boat as his wife and children crying on the river, looked on helplessly. Charles Starks, a resolutions committee member, made a speech reminding everyone that helping the Exodusters was their duty. Starks was critical of St. Louis mayor Henry Overstolz who decided the Exodus should not continue and tried to stop it. On March 15th, he sent a telegram down the river in attempt to head off further migration. The telegram stated:
"It is my duty to warn the colored people against coming to the city
without money to support themselves and to pay their way West.
The City of St. Louis is totally unable to support them
or to furnish them means of reaching their destination.
There are no opportunities of obtaining employment here at present,
much suffering and destitution must certainly be
endured by colored people coming to this city without money or friends."
The Exodusters didn't have money. But they found friends in the community here.
The community was upset that the mayor was trying to persuade the Exodusters from leaving the South when their lives depended on it. Since many Exodusters could not read or write anyway, the mayor's telegram was futile. Mere words were not going to convince the Exodusters to return anyway. The New York Times wrote:
"It does not seem to affect the volume of this emigration
to warn the fugitives of the rashness of their venture.
They are going and they absolutely refuse to return."
(The St. Louis business climate was somewhat dependent on Southern labor that was shipped through the St. Louis market. Overstolz was the first German to be elected to a citywide office in 1849. After running for mayor in 1875, and being defeated by James Britain, Overstolz claimed it was fraudulent and demanded a recount. He then became mayor. He personally directed the charge that ended the citywide labor strike of 1877.)
Since the Exodusters trip up the Mississippi was covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which stated that passengers could ride a common carrier if they had the proper fare, Overstolz then tried to demand the Exodusters be quarantined in the St. Louis Quarantine Hospital (located 12 miles downriver from the city). It was finally determined that this expense outweighed concerns over the city's health, and that putting them in the hospital might encourage them to stay. The Board of Health decided it was better to allow them to enter St. Louis and then, hopefully, leave as soon as possible.
From March 17th through March 24th, more than 2,500 Exodusters passed through St. Louis, with at least 2,00 being housed for several days by the African American community. Police spent a great deal of time on the evening of March 18th in a partially successful attempt to stop a large group of Almond Street pimps from getting on board to entice female Exodusters, although some of the women took them up on their offer. Of the thousand Exodusters who were still in St. Louis, only 10 per day were able to find employment. The rest would be completely dependent on the St. Louis community for help.
To provide shelter, the relief workers relied on connections in the local community. The Eight Street Baptist Church and Lower Baptist Church were housing approximately 250 Exodusters apiece and St. Paul's chapel was caring for 150. The Eighth Street Baptist Church turned over its entire basement to such a large number of people that their laughter could be heard a block away. All three churches had guards at the front doors. The remaining Exodusters were placed around town with various families, in Happy Hollow, or took up residence in abandoned buildings.
On March 20th, with relief funds dwindling, a thousand Exodusters still in need of assistance and a thousand more on the way, the African American community held their 2nd mass meeting at Washington Avenue Church.
During the meeting a frustrated and angry Alfred Carter took to the floor to read a series of resolutions, including the duty to "encourage emigration from the South." However, this caused division, as some in the committee saw their role as more of relief and charity, as opposed to encouraging the Exodus. Carter spoke a such length with such venom that even his supporters urged him to take his seat. Milton Turner was the first to criticize Carter's speech and the two exchanged personal insults.
James Milton Turner and Tandy had been both allies and rivals for years. Nine years earlier, as Tandy was gaining a reputation in Republican politics, he and Turner had found themselves on opposite sides of an issue and their dispute turned personal. Turner had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with other St. Louis African American leaders, many of whom thought him too pompous and self-serving. When Turner announced his intention to run for the Missouri House of Representatives, George Wedley denounced his decision. Later, at a reception for Turner, Turner insulted Wedley in very harsh terms. The next day on the street the two men had words, and although Turner walked with a permanent limp caused by a wound he received during the battle of Shiloh, he knocked Wedley down 3 times. Wedley responded by pulling out his penknife and stabbed Turner in the left lung, severely wounding him and incapacitating him for months. Tandy and Turner also had a physical encounter. During the 1870 debates over the election, Turner bit Tandy on the hand as the two argued about the adoption of disputed ammendments. Tandy and Turner, who met in 1857 when Tandy arrived in St. Louis, never had another physical altercation after the biting incident, but their relationship maintained a great deal of distrust. Turner thought Tandy was small time and out of his league as both an orator and leader and Tandy thought Turner was a self promoter who would not get his hands dirty when it came to actually working for the betterment of African Americans. Tandy was more interested in local problems, while Turner had aspirations on a national scale.
John Wheeler also criticized Carter's speech. He said it was too strongly worded and the resolutions were "revolutionary and rebellious" that would put the St. Louis African American community against the entire South and white population. Wheeler insisted he was not an enemy to whites and looked upon them as friends. He intended to ask whites for help with the Exoduster relief. After this, the meeting quickly got out of hand. Men were shouting and threatening one another. Finally, two African American women in the audience, Mrs. Lizzie Haydock and Mrs. J.C. Mann, raised their hands and quieted the men. One of the women reminded the men that they were engaged in noble work and it was pathetic for them to be acting in such a disgraceful manner. In short, she scolded them and told them to get back to business. Chastised, the men did just that.
The split in the St. Louis African American community concerning the Exodus would be repeated on a larger scale nationally, as Frederick Douglass and other conservative African American leaders began to criticize the Exodusters for leaving the South.
By March 26 there were more than 2,500 Exodusters in St. Louis. The Globe-Democrat challenged the white citizens of St. Louis to get involved in the relief. The New York times reported that the white community looked upon the suffering of the Exodusters "with cold indifference." Since the white community had assumed little of the burden and were not being inconvenienced by the travelers their pleas were ignored.
On April 4th, James Milton Turner decided to try his luck with the white churches in the area. His appeal was also ignored. When the Wyandotte mayor issued proclamations forbidding any more Exodusters to land in their cities, Governor John St. John of Kansas sent a letter to Moses Dickson letting him know that although the river towns were protesting, he would not allow any Exodusters to be turned away. The Wyandotte mayor (J.S. Stockton), the city collector (William Albright) and the Kansas State Senator (W.J. Buchan) traveled to St. Louis to let the St. Louisans know that their resources were tapped out and a Central Distribution Center was established in Topeka. The committee shipped the next group of Exodusters to Lawrence and Topeka. They also expanded their role by helping them complete the final leg of their journey and find homes. The committee was no longer only offering relief for Exodusters who were stranded in St. Louis. They were aiding them in completing their migration.
The St. Louis relief efforts had moved beyond charity for the people who were showing up on the St. Louis riverfronts to encouraging the migration from the South, helping the migrants through St. Louis and on to Kansas, and then aiding the Exodusters in Kansas as well.
But now money was an even more difficult issue and the Committee of Twenty Five, realizing that their appeals to help from the St. Louis white community were being ignored, began to seek donations from throughout the country.
In a letter addressed “To All Generous and Charitable People Throughout the Country” that appeared in the New York Times on April 3rd, the desperation of the committee is evident. The letter states:
“The colored people of the city are doing all in their power to help them.
They have fed, and sheltered them while here,
and have forwarded several hundreds to Kansas,
but still they come, and we are now compelled
to appeal to generous and benevolent persons everywhere
to aid us in our work. We need both money and clothing.
In the name of God and humanity we ask aid for the refugees.”
The appeals to the nation were made throughout the month of April. Their calls for aid were finally answered as donations of food, clothing and money began to arrive from individuals across the north. Funds were collected and recorded by the Globe-Democrat. Other newspapers also donated to the Globe-Democrat Relief Fund. Both groups, as well as, individuals were sending money to The Exodus. The amount of some of the contributions indicate collections taken among communities and congregations in the north to help the Exodusters. The white community in Philadelphia followed suit, and on May 2nd, Philadelphia's mayor appointed a committee of 20 to aid the Exodus. It was eventually reported that a Philadelphia Quaker donated the formidable sum of $10,000 to aid the Exodusters who had made it to Kansas, but who are suffering. The support of the North was due in part to a trip made by Charlton Tandy in April and May. On April 12th Tandy left for Washington DC intent on meeting with President Rutherford B. Hayes and other leading Republicans, to present them with Exoduster testimonies. Another purpose of the trip was to raise awareness of the Exodus and collect funds for the relief. His trip got off to a poor start. Most local white St. Louis Republicans had not aided the Exodus, but began to realize that the Exodus was not going to stop anytime soon.
After arriving in Washington, Tandy called on Frederick Douglass, whom he had met many times before in St. Louis, in hopes that Douglas would provide him with an introduction to the president. Douglass rudely refused, claimed he did not know to Tandy, and told him to get some “old-time abolitionist to introduce you.” Douglass opposed The Exodus on the grounds that, in his opinion, for African Americans in the South, their labor made them valuable and that whites would soon realize it was the government’s job to protect African Americans in the south, and the Exodus would make them compete with white farmers and laborers in the North. In trying to facilitate the Exodus, Tandy was, in Douglass' view, making a harmful mistake for African Americans. After being rebuffed by Douglass, Tandy turned to R.T. Greener, the African-American dean of Howard University, for help. Greener was a strong supporter of the Exodus. He introduced Tandy to the president and other leading National Republicans. The president stated his support for Tandy's mission, but offered no federal assistance to aid the Exodusters or stop bulldozing. As Tandy's trip gained publicity in the Eastern newspapers, Frederick Douglass contacted Tandy and asked for a meeting. The request drew a dismissive response from Tandy, who told Douglas to “go to the devil.”
Tandy also spoke at the famed Cooper Union. He talked about Douglass' response to his request for aid, reporting that Douglas disapproved of the Exodus entirely. The mention of Douglass' opposition drew hisses from the crowd, and then Tandy had a joke at Douglass' expense. He stated that upon hearing the advice that the Exodusters stay in the South, Tandy questioned why Douglas himself did not stay in the south. The question drew laughter from the crowd.
After the local rivalries finally split up the group in one final showdown on April 21st, the Committee of Twenty Five became the Colored Refugee Relief Board. Reverend Moses Dickson was elected president. They established permanent offices at 903 Morgan Street and rented a building for $8 a month on the levee in an attempt to house Exodusters and give relief to the crowded churches.
James Milton Turner, publicly severing ties with the group demanded an investigation into the funds. He started his own organization which caused confusion in the donations being sent from around the country. People wanted to help, but were confused who to send the money to. After the failure of his organization , Turner came out against the Exodus, stating that the South was the true home of African Americans and that the commercial interest of the country demanded that African Americans stay in the South and let the racial problems work themselves out over time. With this argument, he echoed the thoughts of Frederick Douglass, who also understood the reasons the Exodusters were leaving, but argued that African Americans should stay in the South and try to establish their rights slowly.
On May 15th, Tandy gave a report of his trip mentioning that Frederick Douglass had treated him coldly and refused to assist him. He spoke out against Douglass and said that Thurlow Weed, Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison openly condemned Douglass to Tandy. Douglass' name drew hisses from the crowd and one member proposed a resolution to condemn Frederick Douglass, and name him a traitor to his race for not assisting. At this point, Milton Turner rushed to the platform demanding to be heard. "My friends, my friends, think what this means," he said, arguing that passing a resolution condemning Frederick Douglass would make the St. Louis community look too extreme. Turner begged the people to withdraw the resolution. After Tandy did not support the resolution it was withdrawn and Turner exclaimed "This is the happiest moment of my life, this prevention of a wrong to Douglass and the colored race." The next day, another resolution was proposed to condemn Douglass which passed. However, cooler heads prevailed and the resolution was never made public. After pressure and lawsuits from the Southern white community, caused the Anchor Line riverboat company to ignore the Civil Rights Act and stop picking up Exodusters, the Kansas Fever was slowed to a halt. The Exodusters who had waited for the boats had been put back to work by the Southern Landowners. Although the migration to Kansas continued steadily for the next two years, the urgent rush out of the South had subsided. The St. Louis African American community continued helping migrants who came through their city, but fortunately most of the latter travelers to Kansas were more self-sufficient than their predecessors.
- Excerpts written by Bryan Jack from this book
- Summarizations by Me :)