St. Louis’ Old Courthouse plays role in slavery issue


Imagine having a court determine if you could sue for your own freedom or identity.

The Old Courthouse in St. Louis was the location for that very thing. Dred Scott sued for his freedom after spending his life as a slave.

Scott and his wife, Harriett, were slaves to John Emerson. Emerson was an officer in the US Army. In the 1840s he was assigned to free states, including Illinois and Wisconsin.

It was during this time that the Scotts sued for their freedom. After spending years in the free states, they believed that they earned the right to sue for their freedom.

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The case was heard at the St. Louis courthouse. The Scotts won their case. But, it was later overturned because they could not prove they were actually owned by Emerson’s widow.

In 1857, after 10 years of victories, losses and appeals, the US Supreme Court ruled on the matter.

Sadly, it didn’t go the Scotts’ way. The Chief Justice, who was pro-slavery, wrote the majority opinion that slaves were not American citizens and thus could not sue for their freedom.

Dred and Harriett Scott were later set free by their new owner. Dred died months later from an illness.

The Old Courthouse is owned and operated by the National Park Service.

The actual courtroom where the case was believed to have been heard in is located on the second floor. I’m always in awe to stand where history was made. To stand where a black man was given his freedom made me feel proud. But, then, I feel bad about what transpired afterward.


Later, in 1872, Virginia Minor sued for a woman’s right to vote. She lost.

But, the historical significance of that room – and that building – is important to our nation. It makes me proud that someone saw the positives to keep the courthouse building standing over the years.

I love how this old building stands in the middle of modern buildings. That right there tells everyone it’s an important piece of American history.


The courthouse is home to a museum of historical exhibits. The first floor houses the exhibits.


They currently feature the early days of St. Louis, from Laclede’s landing to the steamboat era. Items on display and paintings help tell the story of St. Louis.

One thing I especially like about this building is the rotunda. It is a beautiful art piece. Standing in the middle of it on the first floor and looking up, you see the beauty of the designer’s vision.


In honor of St. Louis’ 250th birthday, one of 250 birthday cake sculptures sits in front of the Old Courthouse.


I recommend visiting the Old Courthouse. It is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and a short walk from the Arch.