Saturday, November 7, 2009

I was grateful that I took a moment to click on the passing note that Elijah Lovejoy was murdered on this day in 1837. I had never heard of him, but after reading his biography, I have added him to my list of heroes.

I have been troubled by a small thing that happened at school on Friday during the U.S. History class I help out in at the high school. The students were watching a video covering some of the achievements of the Progressive Era. While many great things were occurring, the advancements of civil rights were not. Perhaps because of President Wilson's action of not signing a civil rights bill, lynchings in the nation jumped to 3000 in the following year. As several photos of the men, hanging in trees with the jeering crowd below them, were shown, I was about to start crying, and yet, there was no emotion shown on the part of the students. Most were not even paying attention. Mrs. Sheets, the teacher, wisely stopped the video and asked the students what they had just seen. No answer. She replayed and explained the lynching scenes and still, no signs of concern or worry or disgust appeared. Is it because I am old that those photos troubled me? Is death and injustice not a concern to youth? Is violence and make-believe such a huge part of their lives, be it through movies, TV, or video games, or real life experiences, that the sight of it creates no emotion? I do not know the answer, perhaps some sociologist somewhere does. But in the mean time, we need to make sure that we teach the children around us the difference between right and wrong and the sacrifice of millions, including Elijah Lovejoy, that allow us to have free speech, a free press and a nation free from lynchings. I hope that I could have the courage of Mr. Lovejoy if I were called upon to defend those rights in the future.

Here is the link, since I could not get all of the story to show up properly.

Elijah Parish Lovejoy -was born in Albion, Maine, November 9, 1802. He graduated from Waterville College (now Colby College) in 1826 and came to St. Louis as a school teacher.

In 1831 he joined the First Presbyterian Church, decided to become a minister, and returned to the East to study at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was licensed to preach in April, 1833, by the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia. He was ordained by the Presbytery of St. Louis in 1834 and was elected its Moderator in 1835. In St. Louis he was pastor of the Des Peres Presbyterian Church (the "Old Meeting House"). He published a religious newspaper, The St. Louis Observer, and began to advocate the abolition of slavery. Despite the bitter feeling against him., Lovejoy persisted in arguing the fights of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom from slavery. After seeing a slave, Francis J. McIntosh, burned at the stake, his editorials became so strident against slavery that he became an object of hatred by both Southerners and slave-holders. His press was wrecked by a mob in July, 1836, and he moved to Alton in the free State of Illinois.

In Alton, Lovejoy became the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery in 1837 and the first pastor of the present College Avenue Presbyterian Church. He actively supported the organization of the Ant-slavery Society of Illinois which enraged the Alton citizens. He continued writing and publishing the Alton Observer even after three presses had been destroyed and thrown into the Mississippi River.

On the historic night of November 7, 1837, a group of 20 Lovejoy supporters joined him at the Godfrey & Gilman warehouse to guard a new press until it could be installed at the Observer. As the crowd grew outside, excitement and tension mounted. Soon the pro-slavery mob began hurling rocks at the warehouse windows. The defenders retaliated by bombarding the crowd with a supply of earthenware pots found in the warehouse. Then came an exchange of gunfire. Alton's mayor tried in vain to persuade the defenders inside to abandon the press. They stood fast. One of the mob climbed a ladder to try to set fire to the roof of the building. Lovejoy and one of his supporters darted into the darkness to over-turn the ladder, for they knew they would be doomed if a fire was set. But again a volunteer mounted the ladder to try to ignite the roof with a smoking pot of pitch. As Lovejoy assisted Royal Weller in putting out the fire on the roof of the building, Lovejoy received a blast from a double-barreled shotgun. Five of the bullets fatally struck Lovejoy. He died in the arms of his friend Thaddeus Hurlbut. The mob cheered and said all in the building should die. Amos Roff tried to calm the mob and was shot in the ankle. Defenders of the press then laid down their weapons and were allowed to leave. The mob rushed the building, found the press, and threw it out a window to the riverbank, broke it into pieces and dumped the broken parts into the river, The body of Lovejoy was left undisturbed, remaining there until morning, guarded by friends who finally carried him home. He was buried on his 35th birthday, November 9, 1837, in an unmarked grave in the Alton City Cemetery, the location known by a black man, William "Scotch" Johnston, who assisted in the burial.
(Account of the evening as reported by the Alton Observer)

Years later, through the generosity of Thomas Dimmock, Lovejoy's body was exhumed and reinterred at the present site. Dimmock purchased the small but appropriate marble scroll which marks the grave on which is inscribed the Latin words which translates:
"Here lies Lovejoy - Spare him now the grave." He also purchased the New England granite block beneath the scroll and the wall which encloses the grave site.

The story of Lovejoy and the Abolitionists is the story of the enduring vigil for freedom of thought, speech, and the press. For a moment in 1837, Alton, Illinois, was the scene of a battle for freedom that was felt across the nation. The mob action at Godfrey & Gilman warehouse was the first, but unrecorded, battle of the Civil War.

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