Today in 1847, the state of Missouri put a significant obstacle in front of a civil rights activist.

But he found an ingenious way around it.

He was John Berry Meachum, born into slavery in Kentucky in 1789.

Meachum trained as a carpenter.

By age 21, he had earned enough money that he was able to purchase his own freedom.

He then walked from Kentucky to Virginia to secure his father’s freedom, and walked back again.

Meachum went on to pay to free dozens of enslaved Black people.

He and his wife Mary also worked as conductors on the Underground Railroad to help people escape the institution.

Eventually the Meachums settled in St. Louis.

There, John Berry Meachum founded the first Black church west of the Mississippi River.

The basement of the church was known as the Candle Tallow School; it’s where Meachum taught kids to read and write.

Educating Black children in pre-Civil War Missouri was not only a risky thing to do, it was illegal in St. Louis.

The authorities believed that any organized effort to educate Black people was probably part of a plot to lead a revolt.

In 1847, the state of Missouri passed an anti-literacy law for Black and mixed-race people.

Police used that law to shut down the basement school at Meachum’s church.

But the preacher figured out a way he could keep classes running without violating the law.

Meachum set up a school, complete with desks, chairs and a library, on a steamboat.

He then invited students to hop aboard and learn while they were on the Mississippi River, which was outside of Missouri’s jurisdiction.

It was known then as the Freedom School and is now also called the Floating Freedom School.

The school helped teach hundreds of Black students before it closed in 1860.

One of its students, James Milton Turner, later became the first Black member of the US diplomatic corps.

Another example of how knowledge can take you a long way.

Winter has been very on and off in my home state of Wisconsin this year.

But in the community of Waupun, Wisconsin, winter is decidedly on.

Starting tomorrow, the IceFest gives locals the chance to check out more than 50 ice sculptures, plus there’s a scavenger hunt known as the Iced Goose Chase.

How a floating school bypassed racist laws in pre-Civil War St. Louis  (FOX 2)

Waupun IceFest

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Image by Compton & Co., via Wikicommons