Steamboat School

by Dianne White on January 22, 2017

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“… sometimes courage is just an ordinary boy… doing a small thing, as small as picking up a pencil.”

Reverend John Berry Meachum was no ordinary boy. Born a slave, Reverend John later purchased his freedom and began offering “religious and secular education to free and enslaved black St. Louisan’s.”

STEAMBOAT SCHOOL by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband, is the story of Reverend John’s Tallow Candle School and a young boy, James, who attends the school in the basement of the church.

When, on February 16, 1847, the State of Missouri passed a new law prohibiting “instruction of negroes or mulattoes, reading or writing …” Reverend John refuses to let the law hold him or his students back. His solution?  A “Floating Freedom School” held on a steamboat in the middle of the Mississippi River. Because the river was considered to be federal property, the school was, apparently, allowed to operate without restrictions.

Inspired by true events from Reverend John’s life in St. Louis in the the early to mid-1800’s, STEAMBOAT SCHOOL is a powerful story of one man’s determination, resourcefulness, and refusal to let injustice dictate his future or the future of those whose lives he touched.

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