On April 14, 1876, the 11th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, a handsome bronze statue called "Freedmen's Memorial" was unveiled in Washington. The piece contained two figures: Lincoln and a newly freed slave, just rising from his knees and grasping a broken chain. This statue, which still stands in Lincoln Park, was erected with contributions from hundreds of former slaves who wanted to pay tribute to the man who had proclaimed their freedom in 1863. But the statue also pays tribute to an unlikely pair of St. Louisans who helped give it life. The model for the freedman was Archer Alexander, a Virginia-born slave who found refuge in St. Louis during the Civil War. And the moving force behind the statue was his rescuer, biographer and friend, the Rev. William Greenleaf Eliot. Today, Eliot is best known as the grandfather of poet and playwright T. S. Eliot. But during a 53-year St. Louis career, he earned his own list of titles: Unitarian minister, founder and chancellor of Washington University, president of the St. Louis school board and nationally known social reformer. Eliot took a special interest in the Western Sanitary Commission, which aided Civil War victims. Just after Lincoln's death, the commission had received an intriguing request from a former slave, who sent the commission $5 -- her first earnings as a free woman -- to help build a monument to Lincoln, "the best friend the colored people ever had." The commission began a fund-raising campaign and invited former slaves to contribute. Soon it had amassed $16,242 -- a huge sum, but not enough for the monument proposed. A disappointed commission banked the money and waited. Then in 1869, Eliot visited the studio of sculptor Thomas Ball, where he saw a plaster model for a statue of Lincoln and a kneeling slave. Ball was willing to reproduce it in bronze, at cost. The commission asked Ball to make two changes in the statue. First, the former slave should not appear passive, but an eager participant in his own liberation. Ball obliged and gave him a broken shackle. And instead of an idealized figure, the commission wanted to represent a real freedman: Eliot gave Ball photos of his employee Archer Alexander. Eliot had known Alexander for more than a dozen years by the time the statue was dedicated. In 1885, Eliot would publish a moving biography, "The Story of Archer Alexander," in which he wrote, "I never knew a man, white or black, more thoroughly Christian ... in all conduct and demeanor." Yet the book did more than describe one man's life. By telling Alexander's story, Eliot wished to expose the horrors of slavery. "There is nothing in all the scenes of Uncle Tom's Cabin ... to which I cannot find a parallel in what I have myself seen and known in St. Louis," he wrote. Born in 1828 on the Delaney plantation near Richmond, Alexander was included in property settled on his owner's son, Tom. When Tom moved to Missouri, he took Alexander with him. There, Delaney fell into debt and sold Alexander to a farmer, James Hollman. As years passed, Eliot wrote, Alexander outgrew "the spirit of bondage ... he was quite prepared to do his part in breaking his chains." In 1863 he had his chance: he got a warning to Union troops that a bridge they planned to cross had been sabotaged by southern sympathizers. Alexander, now under suspicion, managed to flee to St. Louis. There he had the luck to be hired by Eliot's wife. Eliot guessed the truth about his new employee, but Eliot's position was clear -- he would never return a fugitive slave to his master. He got a permit to keep Alexander for 30 days and offered Hollman $600 to renounce any claim to his slave, whom Eliot intended to free. Hollman replied that "he didn't mean to play into the hands of any Yankee abolitionist ... he'd have the nigger yet and take it out of his black hide." Two days before the permit was to expire, Alexander was kidnapped, clearly by slave-catchers sent by Hollman. With a provost-marshal's help, Eliot got him back and kept him safe until the slaves were emancipated. Some 13 years later, Alexander's face would be enshrined in the Washington statue. Most black organizations in Washington -- the Sons of Levi, the sons of Purity and the Good Samaritans, among others -- took part in a procession that wound through the city to Lincoln Park for the statue's unveiling. The statue was unveiled before a crowd that included President Ulysses S. Grant, members of his Cabinet, Supreme Court justices, senators and foreign ministers. Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave, gave an address, though the ever-modest Eliot couldn't be persuaded to attend. Eliot lived long enough to bury his old friend and record his last words. Eliot wrote that they "were a prayer of thanksgiving that he had died in freedom." -- Candace O'Connor