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RDR: Visiting the Elijah P. Lovejoy monument

The Red Dirt Reporter stands in front of the monument honoring abolitionist and newspaper publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy (Photo by Monica Smith Griffin)
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By Andrew W. Griffin

Red Dirt Report, editor

Posted: December 8, 2009

ALTON, Illinois – Having steeped myself in the history of the abolitionist movement of the 19th century, with particular interest focused on John Brown, your Red Dirt Reporter finally got a chance to hop on over to the east side of the Mississippi River during a recent family trip to St. Louis, Missouri.

This area of the country is where my ancestors largely settled, with St. Louis being a major city and hub well over 100 years ago. This is the area, where in the 1830s, that the fiery abolitionist and newspaper publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy, a one-time Presbyterian minister from Maine, made his home and met his fate at the hands of a pro-slavery mob.

Lovejoy stood firmly for freedom of the press and freedom for all men - blacks included. In the early 19th century, this was not a popular position to take. A award has been created at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. This is where Lovejoy went to college (Waterville College in Lovejoy's day) before heading west to Illinois. Slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award posthumously in 2002. He was murdered by Muslim terrorists in Pakistan.

Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown and Elijah P. Lovejoy are fascinating individuals. During a tour of eastern Kansas in early 2008, visits were paid to key John Brown sites, from Osawatomie to Pottawatomie Creek up to Lecompton, near Topeka. And currently I am reading All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery by Henry Mayer.

Interestingly, it was Lovejoy, some two decades earlier, who had really inspired John Brown. In fact, Lovejoy, murdered by the pro-slavery mob  while trying to protect his press, is often considered the “first casualty of the Civil War.”

Interestingly, I discovered that some of my ancestors were not Lovejoy fans and in fact are believed to have been part of the mob, sad to say. Lovejoy was an outspoken man, using the power of the press – first at a newspaper in St. Louis, before being driven over to Illinois, and then the pro-abolitionist Alton Observer – to explain that slavery was evil and wrong. Lovejoy was simply defending his right to print anti-slavery editorials and articles in his newspaper. And his death only increased interest in abolition, truth and freedom of the press.

In Alton, at the top of the hill overlooking the Mississippi River, where Lovejoy’s presses were tossed by angry mobs prior to his murder in Nov. 1837, is a magnificent monument to Lovejoy.

Erected there over 100 years ago, the monument is a column topped with a figure (it’s featured on the masthead of the local Alton Telegraph newspaper) at the top. At the base are plaques honoring Lovejoy and his fervent fight for freedom of the press in the face of incredible opposition. It should be noted that Lovejoy made few friends, expressing fairly extreme views on religion and other issues of the day. Lovejoy is buried nearby in this cemetery.

An account of what happened to Lovejoy and his supporters is online and comes from the Nov. 7, 1837 edition of the Alton Observer, explaining how the mob wanted his new press, so it could be destroyed, effectively silencing Lovejoy’s voice, via the press. They tried to burn him and his supporters out and then things got increasingly violent according to the report:

Once again a ladder was put in place. As Lovejoy and Weller made another brave attempt to overturn the ladder, they were spotted. Lovejoy was shot five times, and Weller was also wounded. Lovejoy staggered inside the warehouse, making his way to the second floor before he finally fell.

"My God. I an shot," he cried. He died almost immediately.

By this time the warehouse roof had begun to burn. The men remaining inside knew they had no choice but to surrender the press.

The mob rushed into the vacant building.

The press Lovejoy died defending was carried to a window and thrown out onto the river bank. It was broken into pieces that were scattered in the Mississippi River.

Fearing more violence, Lovejoy's friends, did not remove his body from the building until the next morning.

Members of the crowd from the night before, feeling no shame at what thev had done, laughed and jeered as the funeral wagon moved slowly down the street toward Lovejoy's home. Lovejoy was buried on November 9, 1837, his 35th birthday.

A brave man and a heroic American. He died wanting the slave power stopped. And as a journalist, his contributions to freedom in America will not be forgotten.

Copyright 2009 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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