Freedom Suits Memorial Sculpture

The St. Louis Bar Foundation is the 501(C)(3) corporation for the Freedom Suits Memorial Sculpture. This sculpture will represent the freedom suits and the courageous individuals that were involved in them. This Memorial Sculpture will commemorate the roughly 400 slaves who petitioned the Missouri Courts for their freedom. It will be situated on the east side of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis, between it and The Old Courthouse, where most of the suits were tried.

August 9, 2021: Sculpture Update – Clay Model Walk-Around

July 28, 2021: Coverage of the groundbreaking ceremony
– KMOV: New statue honors hundreds of slaves who sued for their freedom in St. Louis
– Fox2Now: St. Louis Civil Courts building site of new Freedom Suits Memorial, set to be completed by fall
– St. Louis Post Dispatch: City leaders break ground on ‘Freedom Suits’ monument
– Missouri Lawyers Weekly: Freedom Suits Memorial honors legal legacy

July 1, 2021: Centene Charitable Foundation to Match $100,000 in Donations to Freedom Suits Memorial

March 28, 2016: Freedom Suits Committee Selects Design Proposal by Sculptor Preston Jackson for Memorial to Slaves’ Lawsuits for Freedom Tried in St. Louis

August 18, 2015: Freedom Suits Committee Issues Request for Proposals from Regional Artists

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Donations may be made online here, or by mailing a check payable to “St. Louis Bar Foundation” to 555 Washington Ave., Ste. 100, St. Louis, MO 63101. When mailing a check, please put “Freedom Suits Memorial” in the memo line.

Click here for the Freedom Suits Memorial Donor Levels Information 

Freedom Suits Memorial Project

Sculpture at Civil Courts Building to Commemorate Legal Efforts Here to Free Slaves

From the time of the Louisiana Purchase until the Emancipation Proclamation 57 years later, approximately 400 slave filed suits in Missouri Courts to demand their freedom, assisted by lawyers working without pay.

Of course, it was a great challenge for a slave to get to court, but once there, they had a legal precedent on their side: “Once free, always free.” Under this theory, the courts had held that a slave who had been moved to a free state or territory for any length of time then returned to a slave state or territory could sue for his or her freedom.

A group of anti-slavery lawyers in the St. Louis region believed that through the courts, they might extend this legal theory and ultimately end the abomination of slavery in the United States without a violent struggle.

They succeeded in freeing many slaves, including Dred and Harriet Scott. Unfortunately for the Scotts, their original owner died while their case was pending. The owner’s widow and her brother appealed the St. Louis verdict, which went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. The resulting decision is generally considered the worst in the history of the Supreme Court. It held that all people of African ancestry – slave as well as those who where free – could never become citizens of the United States and therefore could not sue in federal court. The court also ruled that the federal government did not have the power to prohibit slavery in its territories.

The decision in 1857 propelled the United States toward the Civil War four years later.

Raising Funds in the Legal Community

A memorial commemorating these brave St. Louis litigants and their attorneys is planned for the east plaza of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis. Fundraising from private sources will begin immediately, focusing on members of the legal community.

Donations are tax deductible. Checks may be made to the St. Louis Bar Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) organization. The memo field on the check should specify “Freedom Suits Memorial.”

Well Known Sculptor

In August 2015, The Freedom Suits Memorial Steering Committee published a request for proposals from regional artists for a memorial sculpture. In March, the committee selected sculptor Preston Jackson’s design for a dynamic visual narrative to memorialize the hundreds of courageous slaves and lawyers who went to court in St. Louis to sue for their freedom from 1806 through Emancipation in 1863.

Jackson is a professor emeritus at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where he continues to teach foundry techniques. He is the owner of a gallery in Peoria, IL. A specialist in cast bronze, his works include dozens of public sculptures including a statue of Miles Davis in Alton; “Acts of Intolerance” in Springfield, IL., celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NAACP; and “From Cottonfield to Battlefield” in Decatur, IL., memorializing Abraham Lincoln’s decision to permit African American solders to fight in the Civil War.

His design for the Freedom Suits Memorial calls for a cast bronze work approximately 5 feet by 3 feet wide and 10 feet tall. Each angle of the sculpture will be a pictorial lesson on the lawsuits and the times. It will incorporate both free standing and relief sculptures in a construction recalling the dome and cupola of the Old Courthouse.

“This is a very important project, which fits my life’s work, telling the visual history of our country in a compelling and effective manner that is appropriate for all,” Jackson said. “I feel it is imperative that the descendants of slaves see themselves as strong people, as survivors, and this sculpture will certainly send that important message.”

Honoring an American Ideal

St. Louis Circuit Judge David C. Mason who first conceived the memorial, said, “The design vividly shows how two centuries ago, St. Louis provided proof for the American ideal that even those with least means can achieve justice through the courts. It is likely this work will become another sculpture icon for St. Louis.

Paul N. Venker, chairman of the steering committee, said, “This moving memorial compels us to reflect upon how the least powerful among us, exercising what imperfect legal rights they had, initiated what can only be described as nation-altering change. We honor these African Americans who chose the Rule of Law, and the lawyers who embraced the Spirit of Justice to help them.”

The Steering Committee comprises of 12 members representing the court, local lawyers and academicians, arts leaders and others. Fundraising will be conducted through the St. Louis Bar Foundation.

Information about the memorial sculpture project is available from Thom Gross, public information officer for the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri, 314-622-5685. or