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Jul 31, 2020

Baker Sterchi Member Paul Venker Featured in SLBF Freedom Suits Fundraising Video

Baker Sterchi Member Paul Venker, in his role as Chairman for the Freedom Suits Memorial Steering Committee, appears in a recently launched video to help raise money for this Memorial sculpture, which will honor the courageous slave-plaintiffs in what have become known as the freedom suits. Judge David C. Mason, has been the champion for this Memorial, the idea of which he conceived of more than five years ago. The Memorial will sit on the east plaza of the St. Louis Civil Courts Building, which is home to the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit Court. 

In the early to mid-1800s, hundreds of slaves filed suits in Missouri courts, the vast majority of them in St. Louis, demanding their freedom. They did so under the legal precedent: “once free, always free”, which held that if a slave moved from Missouri to a free state/territory for the proper length of time, they became free. If they were then returned to Missouri, he or she could sue for their freedom because they had become free in that other state/territory. These are collectively referred to as freedom suits, of which Harriett and Dred Scott are likely the most famous plaintiffs. 

The Freedom Suits Memorial Steering Committee is actively fundraising in the community at large, but specifically including the legal community, for the Memorial sculpture. Their goal is to raise $1M. A past president of the St. Louis Bar Foundation, Venker has been chairman of the Freedom Suits Memorial Steering Committee since 2015. 

In 2016, the Steering Committee selected the design of Preston Jackson, a professor emeritus at The Art Institute of Chicago, who conceived of a cast bronze work 8 feet wide by 4 feet deep and 14 feet tall, with each angle providing a pictorial lesson of how these lawsuits demonstrated the divided society which permitted some slaves to sue for freedom, but also kept so many more in slavery. 

"This project is the result of Judge David Mason’s perseverance with his brilliant idea to have a memorial for freedom suits plaintiffs, lawyers, and judges, coupled with the artistic genius of the nationally-renowned artist Preston Jackson," said Paul Venker. “We hope the entire community, but specifically the legal community, will embrace our fundraising campaign to help bring this inspiring project to life.” 

Contributions are being made to and handled by the St. Louis Bar Foundation, which is a section 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and is the charitable outreach arm of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. Donations may be made online here, or by mailing a check payable to “St. Louis Bar Foundation” at 555 Washington Ave., Ste. 100, St. Louis, MO 63101. When mailing a check, put “Freedom Suits Memorial” in the memo line.

View the Freedom Suits Memorial fundraising video with Venker here. For more on the Freedom Suits Memorial Project, visit the St. Louis City Circuit Court website here