Guide to African American History

Missouri General Assembly

Missouri's first general assembly met in September 1820 at the Missouri Hotel in St. Louis. Qualified members were free, white male citizens of the United States and tax-paying residents of Missouri. Representatives were at least twenty-four years of age and senators were thirty years old. The first general assembly enacted legislation necessary to make the constitution operative. This included statutes governing slavery, taken in large part from the territorial "black code" legislation. Measures governing the activities of free blacks and abolitionists in Missouri, as well as provisions allowing the pursuit of freedom from slavery, were passed. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the General Assembly passed laws to govern the education of African American children in separate schools and allow African Americans to legally marry. During the twentieth century, other measures were enacted to create greater equality in society, such as the Missouri Public Accommodations Act of 1965 that ended discrimination in public places, and to remove racially prejudiced statutes, such as one banning interracial marriages (repealed in 1969). Many measures proposed never passed, though, and research of the original bill packets may be revealing in understanding the role of race in the state's legislative activity. In addition, this collection contains the papers of individual legislators and reports from various legislative commissions.

Record Group 550: General Assembly, 1821 - Present (incomplete); arranged chronologically.

The records of the General Assembly include original bill packets, which detail summary of bill, sponsor, committee, and final disposition. Early legislation may not include such comprehensive information. The records include original journal pages, House and Senate bills, roll calls, and committee reports. In addition, elected officials and citizens corresponded with the legislature regarding a number of issues, including slavery, free blacks, and legal equality. This correspondence, as well as resolutions, petitions, memorials, and accounts, is contained in the eighteenth century records. Examples include 1842 Judiciary Committee reports outlining the costs for guarding slaves Fanny and Slick, held on Lincoln County murder charges, as well as 1846 letters regarding the surrender of Richard Eels, a slave smuggler. After the Civil War, Pike County's African American citizens petitioned the General Assembly for legal equality; various civil rights issues can be researched in legislative materials. Studied in conjunction with the traditional General Assembly records, the additional materials can help researchers define the role of the legislature in the lives of African Americans.

Researchers may find it useful to consult the printed and indexed Journals of the House and Journals of the Senate for specific topics. These are located in the State Government Documents collection. In addition, the Missouri State Archives maintains a collection of published Laws of Missouri and Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri that are also indexed and can provide reference to legislation approved by the General Assembly.

Record Group 552: General Assembly, Legislator Papers, 1912 - 1998

This record group contains the papers of various individual legislators; each legislator comprises a sub-group. Most of the records encompass legislative activity of the 1980s and early 1990s and primarily include legislative files, subject files, reports, and correspondence. Some legislators were concerned with minority issues; this is reflected in the individual collections.

Researchers may wish to consult the papers of Representative Bob Griffin, Speaker of the House (1981-1995), regarding African American issues, including the 1990 Joint Interim Committee: Minority Participation in State Contracts. Representative, now Senator, Mary Groves Bland is a member of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus. Her papers reflect activities of that group in subject files regarding affirmative action, discrimination, and minorities in state government. In addition, many reports and bills sponsored by Representative Bland concern minority issues and discrimination complaints. Bland was also instrumental in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations from 1986-1996.