Monday, Jan. 21, reflects the federal holiday that observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day—a time traditionally focused on encouraging Americans to stand for doing what's inherently right even when it's the unpopular position or decision. The holiday also highlights U.S. history related to Black Americans.
Local Black history was just spotlighted earlier this month in Wildwood when city officials hosted a public meeting on Jan. 12 to tour a burial site located on a private residence on Old Slave Road (real street name), off the west side of Wild Horse Creek Road and south of Centaur Road.
The burial site is unmarked and has no headstones. Owners of residences along Old Slave Road last fall petitioned Wildwood city staffers to change the private road's name, due to a stated desire to honor the memory of former slaves who once lived there as slaves and later as free men and women.
Members of the city's Administration/Public Works Committee received the request about changing the name of this roadway at an Oct. 30 meeting. They sought further information, input and action by the Historic Preservation Commission regarding this matter.
A public hearing about the name change request, and historical significance of the area in and around Old Slave Road, was held Nov. 27. A public meeting and tour of the burial site along the road then was scheduled by Wildwood's Historic Preservation Commission for Jan. 12. The matter was postponed from the commission's Jan. 7 meeting, and readdressed at the Jan. 16 meeting.
Summary of Historical Connections
A very notable slave, Elijah Madison, lived in this area of Wildwood. Helen Madison, his 91-year-old granddaughter, visited the burial site on private property and a second, nearby cemetery this month during the tour. She still lives and works in St. Louis County. It was the first time she had seen the graves of her grandfather and great-grandfather.
A document provided by Spicewood Farms' resident Karen Fox stated neighbors are considering street names that contain the name Madison, to honor Elijah Madison, as well as the many known and unknown former slaves who lived in the area and were possibly buried at the cemetery.
According to Missouri History Museum information in St. Louis, Madison was born into slavery in 1841 on a plantation near the present-day site of Dr. Edmund Babler State Park. Historical records indicate Madison probably earned his freedom at the height of the Civil War when federal recruiters announced the U.S. Army would accept any able-bodied man of African descent into its ranks, the museum stated in a blog.
The blog also stated: "After the war, Madison continued serving in the army until his discharge as a corporal in 1866. He returned to the St. Louis area to farm on land near the plantation where he had formerly been a slave. In 1868, he married Elizabeth West, and the couple raised 15 children. In his later years, Madison moved to Elmwood Park, MO, where he became a minister. He died in 1922."
The Antioch Baptist Church on Wild Horse Creek Road holds the original records documenting the baptism of many of the slaves in the area, including Madison.
"There was so much oral history about this area, the city (Wildwood) hired an archaeologist to research it," Fox told Patch.
Among Elijah and Elizabeth West's descendants reportedly were doctors, lawyers, teachers, seamstresses, realtors, singers, military soldiers, engineers, coal miners, Pullman porters, mail carriers, musicians and entrepreneurs.
Editor's Note: Eureka-Wildwood Patch hopes to explore and share more about this part of pre-Wildwood history in future articles.