The Shared Story of German Immigrants and African Americans in Missouri

Within the social and political context of nineteenth-century Missouri, German specialist Sydney Norton and sociologist Cecilia Nadal examine the contributions of German immigrants who dedicated their lives to ending slavery, and who, in some cases, worked with African Americans to institute laws of social equality after slavery was abolished.

Published: May 9, 2023

Presentation by Sociologist Cecilia Nadal and Cultural Historian Sydney Norton

Click here to view the presentation on YouTube.

Hermann, MO
This painting by Washington, MO, artist Bryan Haynes depicts a historic view of Hermann, MO. Our presenter, Cecilia Nadal has researched the role that German Americans played in fighting slavery, but also later accommodating segregation.

Hosted by Missouri River Relief and the Missouri Humanities Council 

Ever wondered how Missouri fit into the abolitionist movement? Within the social and political context of nineteenth-century Missouri, German specialist Sydney Norton examined the contributions of German immigrants who dedicated their lives to ending slavery, and who, in some cases, worked with African Americans to institute laws of social equality after slavery was abolished.

Sydney focused her portion of the talk on the contributions of key political figures, such as Friedrich Muench, Arnold Krekel, and Henry and Augustus Boernstein. Historical figures whose actions and writings helped mobilize members of the German community to support Abraham Lincoln and fight for the principles of democracy.

Ordinance abolishing slavery in Missouri, signed by Judge Arnold Krekel, 1865.

Sociologist and playwright Cecilia Nadal took a different approach to the topic and shared what inspired her to investigate the shared history of African Americans and German Americans. She touched on the complex and evolving historical relationships between the two groups before, during, and following the Civil War. Nadal also shared personal insights gleaned from discussion groups she facilitated with urban and rural Missourians from both ethnic groups. She emphasized the importance of this historic relationship and how it impacted her play, An Amazing Story: German Abolitionists of Missouri, which toured in St. Louis, Washington and Hermann.

Cecilia Nadal is a sociologist and playwright who attended Saint Louis University receiving her bachelor’s degree in Sociology and master’s degree in Urban Sociology from Webster University. She completed all coursework for a PhD in Social Development at Saint Louis University. Cecilia was the founder and Executive Director of Gitana Productions Inc., a 23-year nonprofit arts and education company that builds communities through cross-cultural engagement and co-creation.

Cecilia wrote the play, An Amazing Story: German Abolitionists of Missouri and organized a number of Symposia on the Shared History of Germans and African Americans featured in St. Louis, Hermann and upcoming in Hannibal, Warrenton and Jefferson City.

She is now the President of Cross-Cultural Strategies, a training and consultant firm. Cecilia is the recipient of a number of awards at the local, state and national level including the 2019 Missouri Arts Award for Arts Leadership; 2017 Ethics in Action Award, Ethical Society and the St. Louis Visionary Award for Community Impact.

Sydney J. Norton is an independent scholar and educator in St. Louis. In 2016, she organized “German Immigrant Abolitionists: Fighting for a Free Missouri,” an exhibition that opened at Saint Louis University’s Center for Global Citizenship, and that traveled to Deutschheim State Historic Site in Hermann, Mo. Her research for this project and her close collaboration with colleagues in related fields has inspired a collection of essays that is coming out this year with University of Missouri Press. Sydney earned her doctorate in German literature and cultural studies from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Her publications include books and articles on contemporary German art and literature, the performing and visual arts of the Weimar Republic, and German immigrant abolitionists in Missouri. Currently, Sydney teaches German at Saint Louis Community College and The German School Association, and serves on the library staff at Concordia Historical Institute. As a member of the Missouri Speakers Bureau, she presents lectures on German immigrant abolitionists throughout the state.

Resources & Links

Dig deeper for more info on this topic

The Big Muddy Speaker Series in Rocheport

is hosted by these wonderful partners.

Click here for a list of upcoming presentations»

Special thanks to Les Bourgeois Vineyards for giving us the opportunity to use their beautiful space overlooking the Missouri River. All speakers are presenting for free! Thank you all for sharing your knowledge with us!

The Big Muddy Speaker Series also takes place in St. Charles.


The views and opinions expressed by our presenters do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of Missouri River Relief, the Big Muddy Speaker Series or any of the partners that support this public forum. The Big Muddy Speaker Series believes that hearing diverse perspectives is a crucial building block for an informed public.


Post navigation