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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Missouri Black Legislative Caucus Wants State Holiday For First African American Legislator

State Rep. Steven Roberts, Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, has filed legislation to formally renounce the Dred Scott decision.
Tim Bommel | Missouri House Communications
State Rep. Steven Roberts, Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, has filed legislation to formally renounce the Dred Scott decision.

Missouri’s Legislative Black Caucus on Monday highlighted legislation they’ve filed to honor and remember the work done by African American Missourians. 

State Rep. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, spoke about the “perseverance and triumphs” of African Americans to begin the celebrations of Black History Month at a press conference at the Capitol. 

“When I think about black history in this country and in this state, ‘celebrate’ is not the first word that comes to mind,” he said. 

One measure would create a new state holiday in Missouri, declaring May 1 as Walthall Moore Day. Moore was the first African American legislator in the state. A Republican from St. Louis, Moore was first elected a century ago in 1920. May 1 is his birthday. 

“Rep. Moore battled against Republicans and Democrats, but most importantly, he battled for education in the black community,” said Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale, who is sponsoring the legislation.

Moore reorganized Lincoln Institute into Lincoln University and increased its funding. 

Windham also pointed out that Missouri has had more than 7,000 state legislators in its history, while less than 140 have been African American. 

Roberts, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about Missouri entering the union as a slave state and how it was the site for the Dred Scott case.

“Less than 200 years ago, the highest court in the land ruled that black Americans were not actually Americans,” said Roberts. “Less than 200 years ago, we were owned.” 

The Dred Scott ruling, which was handed down on March 6, 1857, said that black Americans, free or slave, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Roberts has filed a proposal to formally renounce a similar 1852 Missouri Supreme Court decision, and he believes it will pass. 

“It passed out of the House two years ago,” said Roberts. “There were only two votes in opposition, so it got broad support in committee, and I’m hoping we can get that one to the finish line this session.” 

State Rep. Alan Green, D-Florissant, has also filed legislation to establish funding to celebrate the cultural heritage of black Missourians. One proposal would allow voters in St. Louis and St. Louis County to decide if the local zoo and museum taxing district should expand to create an African American History Museum.

The other would utilize an existing tax to fund an annual Juneteenth Heritage and Jazz Festival. This would be celebrated in Kansas City, St. Louis, or St. Louis County.

Listen to Rep. Steven Roberts' interview on St. Louis on the Air:

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the ruling Missouri legislators want to renounce. That ruling was an 1852 Missouri Supreme Court decision.Follow Jaclyn Driscoll on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Jaclyn Driscoll is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. She joined the politics team in 2019 after spending two years at the Springfield, Illinois NPR affiliate. Jaclyn covered a variety of issues at the statehouse for all of Illinois' public radio stations, but focused primarily on public health and agriculture related policy. Before joining public radio, Jaclyn reported for a couple television stations in Illinois and Iowa as a general assignment reporter.