The St. Louis CRP will organize a series of remembrance events to acknowledge racial terror injustice and to constructively address their legacies in our community.
The St. Louis CRP is facilitated by The Reparative Justice Coalition of St. Louis (RJC-STL).
In 1836 Francis McIntosh, a free man of color, was burned to death outside of the Old Courthouse by a mob of white St. Louisans. No one was held responsible for that racial terror lynching, and we live with its remnants today.
The McIntosh case is well-documented, in part for its incredible brutality. McIntosh was briefly jailed following a violent encounter with St. Louis police that left one of them mortally wounded. A mob abducted McIntosh from the jail, tied him to a nearby tree, and burned him alive as a crowd looked on. Historian Walter Johnson writes in The Broken Heart of America (2020, p. 77), “the burned tree [was] left standing on the corner of Seventh and Chestnut for years afterward, an attraction for whites traveling west and a grim warning for Blacks passing by.” This is just one of the ways the lynching would continue to haunt the region, by perpetuating racial terror, and corrupting the rule of law.
The notoriety of the McIntosh lynching also relates to a number of subsequent events. These include the the killing of white abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy - whose condemnation of the lynching and subsequent miscarriage of justice enraged pro-slavery elements in St. Louis and Southern Illinois. Both mob killings were condemned in a 1838 speech by Abraham Lincoln. In his “Lyceum Address,” Lincoln warned that the institution of slavery and impunity for racist violence degraded the rule of law and legitimacy of the state, using the McIntosh lynching and assassination of Lovejoy as cases in point.
Key to our decision to begin with commemoration of this case is the denial of justice in its wake. Several participants in the McIntosh lynching were subject to a grand jury hearing over whether they should be indicted. The presiding judge named Luke Lawless, true to name, urged grand jurors to vindicate the mob. Judge Lawless warned a conviction would encourage abolitionists (whom he called “antislavery fanatics”). He sought to exculpate the mob with the excuse that members were “impelled by that mysterious, metaphysical, and almost electric phrenzy [sic]...beyond the reach of human law,” and therefore not criminally responsible. It worked - no one was held responsible for this murder. Elijah Lovejoy, outraged by this injustice, intensified his abolitionist work. For his constitutionally protected speech, he was driven from St. Louis and later killed by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River.
As we continue to struggle for equal protection under law, we remember the McIntosh lynching and subsequent denial of justice to reflect on this past and present injustice, and build greater commitments to liberty and justice for all.
For St. Louis Community Remembrance Project updates, please visit: https://www.rjcstl.org/st-louis-crp
The National Memorial in Montgomery Alabama contains over 800 corten steel monuments, one for each county in the US where racial terror lynchings took place. It is our mission to bring home the St Louis County Monument from an adjoining park which contains identical monuments waiting to be claimed and installed in the counties they represent. Over time, the national memorial will serve as a report on which parts of the US have confronted the truth of this terror, and which parts have not expressed this willingness to face the past.