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St. Louis to Host First Slave Auction in 150 Years; Bidders Get Chance to Split Up Family

Categories: History
slave sale.jpg
A St. Louis newspaper ad from 1832 announces a slave sale at the courthouse steps.
One might think that getting African-Americans to volunteer to be sold as slaves would be a difficult proposition these days.

Not at all, says Angela da Silva, a professor of black history at Lindenwood University who frequently portrays a slave woman named "Lila" at the Daniel Boone Home in St. Charles.

"I have to turn people away," says the 56-year-old da Silva of her troupe of about a dozen slave re-enactors. "The problem today is that most blacks don't know enough about slavery. It's not taught in schools, or it's simply ignored. Reliving slavery this way provides today's generation with a whole new appreciation of what people went through."

Still, da Silva considers a reenactment scheduled for downtown St. Louis next week a major coup as it may very well mark the first time since June 10, 1862, that the steps of the Old Courthouse plays host to a slave auction.

"I know of no other such reenactment like this ever occurring here," says Bob Moore, the historian for Jefferson National Expansion Memorial that includes the Old Courthouse. (That's the same building, btw, where former slave Dred Scott argued for his freedom in 1850 in a case that helped prompt the Civil War.)

lila.jpg
Angela da Silva as "Lila"
The slave sale to occur this January 15 at the Old Courthouse comes as the region looks to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the start of America's bloodiest war that killed some 600,000 people.

"Starting off with a slave sale ensures that slavery will be the focal point of this year's events," says da Silva, who rallied to have her auction prior to a more traditional Civil War reenactment scheduled for the first weekend of May in Jefferson Barracks.

Next week's auction will include some fifty reenactors representing the various characters who may have shown up for that last slave sale in St. Louis in 1861. That includes German abolitionists, Bible-thumpers, Union soldiers occupying the city, a Kentucky tobacco farmer and an auctioneer who specializes in nineteenth century bidding.

A stickler for authenticity, da Silva says the reenactors will portray actual slaves sold from the courthouse steps as obtained from court records.

Thumbnail image for old courthouse 1800s.jpg
The Old Courthouse as it looked then -- and now.
"It'll be a typical sale," promises da Silva, who also operates a travel company focusing on the "Africa diaspora" called National Black Tourism Network. "These aren't celebrites. They're just the kind of ordinary slaves that would've been auctioned at the time -- including a pair of orphan sisters who bidders can either purchase together or separately."

Moore, of the national park service, says he hopes that the reenactment will spawn discussion.

"When we discuss the war today, we often do so in context of generals on a hillside or the graves of soldiers, and not the core issue that caused the war," he says.

The slaves auctioned January 15 will be shackled in replica irons that da Silva had made according to the exact measurements of manacles she uncovered last fall in Mississippi while she and her slave posse participated in a reenactment for the History Channel.

"We were captured by Confederate foragers and had to spend three days in prison camp," says da Silva of the History Channel segment. "Finally we were rescued by General Grant."

Continue on to check out a description of the slaves up for sale at the January 15 auction. 


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22 comments
historian
historian

There was a 1933 musical pageant, Dawn, performed on the court house steps that depicted a slave auction.  It was written by the great St. Louis African American woman, Julia Davis.  Also, the last slave auction at the courthouse was unsuccessful and a sort of protest.

Joey_snapp2004
Joey_snapp2004

I Love Saint Louis Cuz Of My Fam! I Left Saint Louis to Become Who I Am 2Day!

Michael Pierce
Michael Pierce

As a participant in today's program, I need to say this. For me, today was a "Saving Private Ryan" moment. I've participated in living history programs for nearly 30 years. I've had many emotional moments on Civil War battlefields all over the country. The emotions I felt today topped them all. I'm a professional historian. I've read many, many publications about slavery. Although I know that this program could not come close to totally replicating the real thing, I was still quite moved. Angela da Silva's program really brought it all home. Watching those shackled men, women and children being led up Broadway, then onto the block on the courthouse steps. If you were there, you saw me. Big white guy in a long white coat, my wife and I bought the woman called Shilley. When the program was over I hugged or shook hands with as many of those portraying slaves as I could, still with tears in my eyes. Yes, it was a teaching moment.

Unafraid to sign my name, and proud to have had the opportunity to take part in this historic event, I sign my name,

Michael Wayne Pierce

BTW - How many of you previous posters were there today? What did you think?

nerdlinger
nerdlinger

this sounds like it should be extremely educational and emotional to see. I commend everyone participating. I hope it does start a (good) discussion.

however, just a pet peeve, and let me make it clear I am not in any way against reminding people the horrible truth behind slavery, that the Civil War was, yes, LARGELY prompted by slavery but was not the entire package...for instance, not every white man in the south owned slaves; most families were just as poor and living just as hard to get by, and these were the guys fighting for state's rights. Now I'm not some Confederate nut-head, but it just irks me when people say "oh it's because every white man ever owned slaves". just sayin :/

janeqcitizen
janeqcitizen

History needs alot less candycoating. I commend ALL who are going to participate. This re-enactment is not meant to be entertaining-it's meant to teach. We are fortunate to have historians of all races who want this country to NOT forget it's past. For those who want to further their point of view-might I suggest a re-enactment of the slaves building Mt. Vernon, Monticello, or The White House.

Unknown
Unknown

I disagree with this. We don't need a theatrical production of a slave auction to provide a history lesson. Most Blacks know the REAL story of the slave trade. The pretty stories are told in history books and in history classes across the country. I can almost guarante that this will NOT be an accurate account of what happened to African slaves being bought and sold in the country.

Instead of focusing on this we need to focus on what is going on in this nation currently. Instead of thinking about more division we should be thinking of solutions on how to bring everyone on the same page. This is yet another example of how most Americans really don't have a clue.

Melemel666
Melemel666

This is a farce and an affront to the collective dignities of people of African descent. This is not educational at all! It has all the makings of a Play, that will most likely be melodramatic in form and content. Does Disilva plan to undress and expose any of these so-called "Slaves?" Does she plan to have potential buyers, examine the private parts of the males for soundness? Are White men going to insert their fingers into the vagina's of young Slave girls to test for virginity and potential for breeding? Do they plan to drag the sick, infirm, unuseable Slaves down the cobblestone corridor back to the river to "dispose" of them? (To literally drown them)This is a Game that Evil People play and nobody has the right to spit in the face of such a horrible past! You should all be ASHAMED!

Adam Arenson
Adam Arenson

Slavery was a system of taking people (judged to be inferior) and giving them a price -- buying and selling their labor, reproduction, and dignity to others, almost exclusively whites. If the reenactment shows the trauma of that experience and its impact deep on U.S. society, it will be educational.

But we also have to be careful to see what did and did not happen in St. Louis. There was no "last slave sale," broken up by abolitionists on the courthouse steps, as many in St. Louis seem to believe -- that was a fiction created during Reconstruction, by those wishing for such a moment.

And in 1904, a reenactment was held by drunken commissioners of the World's Fair, selling each other in jest.

You can read about both in my new book, The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, or hear me speak about it in St. Louis in the weeks and months ahead. See more at my website, adamarenson.com.

Adam ArensonHistory Professor

Onevictory777
Onevictory777

Prime example of pure ignorance with a touch of stupidity. No need to re-mind African Americans of the past mental & physical bondage of their heritage, why not just focus on encouraging & motivating the pursuit of success & prosperity & provide meaningful strategies to achieving it; oh I know why, again, ignorance & stupidity is your genetic make-up.

Erimon2
Erimon2

This is a prime cast of why other race of people don't respect African-American's right to be free, because AA today don't appreciate the freedoms (dignity, respect, humanity, a nuclear famliy, and all the other innate rights) Dred Scott, Dr. MLK and the civil rights leaders fought for. Instead, we showcase how we can submit to slavery. Why not show the trail of the slaves that said, " We fed up and were ain't gon take it no mo'!" As a result, they began creating a mental, a social, a physical path to self-sufficiency, self-esteem and a sense of independence. Our youth of today already are enticed into slavery each and everyday all day through media, their peers and through transfer of negative aggression. We need a re-enactment that show our youth, AA families and the world we appreciate our freedom, because our ancestors fought and died for our freedom and we will not lay down and while one of our own play with our freedom. Congress is already creating the stage for slavery (no stable jobs, high health insurance, an increase in homeless, looow wages, an increase in divorce, an increase in crime and the list goes on. Help us find a way to stay together and not generate a racial divide.

Mike
Mike

And just how will this re-enactment "educate" the students? More specifically, just how will someone with a degree in BLACK HISTORY earn a living after graduation?

Remember the past
Remember the past

I normally would think this kind of thing is frivolous, but reading this after the account of gratuitous "n-word" removal from Huck Finn makes me realize how important it is for younger generations to remember the past as it was lived, not our sanitized version. Kudos to Prof. da Silva and her fellow re-enactors. As a possible descendant of some of those very slaves, I think it would send chills up my spine to see them on the Old Courthouse steps.

Jannettwhite49ci
Jannettwhite49ci

Michael, I was a participant also and I agree wholeheartedly, it truly was a learning experience. I realize that we will never know the full impact of that traumatizing experience - thank God for His grace and mercy; however, the realization that it did happen was more profound today than it has even been. It was a privilege to be included in such a historical event. I appreciate all that Ms. Da silva does and is doing in order to bring more awareness to the public in reference not only to the cruel, and inhuman events that occurred in St. Louis - but to the overall world of current and past history.

I've been a member of the reenactment troupe for 3 years - and Ms. Da Silva's expectations of excellence, spirit of unity and commitment never ceases to amaze me. She is truly to be rallied around and I thank God, again, for having the opportunity to be a part of her amazing troupe. Keep up the good work Angela and for reminding us that without a past there is no future. NOTE: Praise the Lord hallelujiah I am free, no longer bound - no more chains holding me- not in my mind, body or soul - again, praise the Lord hallelujiah I am free.

Goddess Gaia
Goddess Gaia

I just want to say that I know about what went on in those days, on those steps! The point is that it was not pretty and antisceptic like this event is likely to be. It's gon' be "Sugar Coated" they are not going tell it like it really was, because our present laws of Moral Decency won't allow it! If they put on an "actual" Slave auction, the way it was historically, somebody would have to be arrested for indecent exposure, assault, rape, and many many other crimes that I'm too decent to mention. People, don't forget, Blood is on those steps! The spirits of our ancestors need to be respected, not the subject of some teacher's interpretation of reality. This is just as much about the Spirit as it is about education and truth! Leave my people alone! You've done enough to them! I'm going, but to pay respect, not to be entertained!

Barbara
Barbara

From my perspective (as a classroom teacher), I think this is an excellent idea. But, I would add to this reenactment - a period for discussion. Just simply reenacting slave trade is educational in itself; but to increase higher order thinking, comes the questions and answers period.

Let's not criticize the thought/idea because I don't see too many African American doing anything to enhance the education of African American youth. What have you done to secure the history of our people for our children? At least this person has thoughtfully designed a lesson to teach the less knowledgable about our history.

My grandmother use to say, "If you can't say something good, then be quiet." Maybe...just maybe it would be a good thing to contact the author of this article to find out if you can indeed connect with the person who is presenting this auction. Once the connection has been made, then the two of you can collaborate on what need to be different.Thank you.

Walt
Walt

Same way english majors do.

Michael Pierce
Michael Pierce

I think it's a great thing y'all have got going there! Like I said, I've been doing this for 30 years. Started out as a Confederate foot soldier, now belong to a Confederate artillery unit. As far as emotional impact, this small event is now number one on my list, and all of you that work with Angela are to be highly commended for doing what you do. I can see that, from the posts on this blog and all the other local media blogs, you folks probably catch more flak for doing what you do than I do for being a Confederate (there's always the automatic assumption that I'm a Ku Kluxer). If you haven't yet had the chance to do so, check out some of the other posts on the other media outlets. Some of them are downright laughable, and almost sad, exhibiting the personalities and paranoias of some of the posters. Hope to see you at Camp Jackson (Jefferson Barracks).

Michael Pierce
Michael Pierce

There was a q&a period afterwards, in the rotunda, with several hundred people present.

Terrancevanjack
Terrancevanjack

english majors teach the english language...which is taught everywhere..and in every facet...however..with frican histaory..its not taught everywhere..and like english..it IS NOT a requirement..and some universities dont even carry African American history..so when some one learns AA History..it will NOT be like learning english...its a bit different..especially when its time to look for employment

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