Dred Scott Heritage Foundation educates, inspires, reconciles
Walk along the east side of the Old Courthouse Downtown and you'll see a life-size reminder of one couple's valiant fight to rescue the nation from an inhumane period of its history, one that did not end until settled by bloodshed.
The new Dred and Harriet Scott statue is a testament to the slave couple who fought for their freedom in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is also a testament to the perseverance of their great-great granddaughter and many others who worked to get funding for the statue honoring their fight.
In 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case -- earlier combined with a suit filed by his wife, Harriet -- first heard at the Old Courthouse in Downtown St. Louis. Seven of the nine justices agreed that Dred Scott should remain a slave, but Taney also ruled that as a slave, Scott was not a citizen of the United States and therefore had no right to bring suit in the federal courts on any matter.
At the dedication of the statue in June, Dred Scott Madison said his cousin, Lynne Jackson, who organized the effort to erect the statue, is "doing God's work just as our great-great-grandfather and (great-great) grandmother did. They fought for God's law -- not man's law."
Madison later told the Review that "you can't continue to go against God's law and call yourself a nation under God. This country had to be cleansed. Slavery was an abomination. The majority of the country knew it, too. Even those fighting for the South -- a lot of them knew slavery was wrong. But it was tolerated."
Emily Pellarin of St. Clement of Rome Parish in Des Peres, a recent graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., was among the people who turned out to witness the statue unveiling. She said the statue stands as an example of the importance of human dignity and the need to protect it. Madison's words "speak volumes about what we can do if we persevere for God's law," she said, pointing to the pro-life cause as a modern-day example.
"There can be no justice without protecting human dignity," Pellarin said.
Dred and Harriet Scott showed "amazing perseverance," she said, and the respect now shown for their struggle "is a testament to the people of St. Louis, that we're willing to talk about it."
Jackson, interviewed a few weeks after the unveiling of the statue, noted that the case was seen as inspiring because of her great-great-grandparents' struggle and determination, but it also was important for its outcome -- pushing the country toward the Civil War and the enactment of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. "So freedom, citizenship and voting were direct outcomes of the case," she said.
For the statue dedication program Jackson chose a quote from Isaiah: "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: Thou shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shall be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."
That line and a preceding line in Isaiah (58: 11) "speak to us of reconciling as well as restoring ourselves as a people and culture," Jackson said, "remembering those who came before. ... Let's get back to righteous ways so we can have reconciliation."
The Dred and Harriet Scott Reconciliation Forum is hosted by the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation in Marshfield, Mo. Descendants of civil rights leaders, abolitionists and founding presidents take part in the yearly event.
"The commemoration of the statue, education efforts and the reconciliation forums are really making an impact," said Jackson, who is working on fundraising for the remaining costs of the statue. "We reconcile ourselves to each other, to our community and to God. It's a matter of 'Let's not be so divisive. Let's not be so angry. Let's dialogue. Let's learn.' That's why education is so important. When people learn the truth of what's happened, they see things differently and act differently. It's all about loving one another."
A Protestant, Jackson has involved people from all sectors of the community. Several Catholics are involved in her efforts, including Catholic schools. She has received a warm welcome at the schools and at St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Parish, where some of her cousins are parishioners.
KTRS Radio broadcaster McGraw Milhaven, who was the master of ceremonies at the statue dedication, noted that the event was 154 years in the making, and that now visitors who walk past can learn a small part of the story and may be inspired to learn more. "St. Louisans of all backgrounds and races have come together here to mark history, a history that is hard to imagine as we look back through the lens of the 21st century," he said.
The statue stands as "a tribute to the human spirit, and though our country took away their freedom, it could not take away their dignity," Milhaven said.
Another supporter and friend of Jackson, Dr. C. David Claybrook, said recognizing this key part of history is still important today because "racial reconciliation is long overdue. We're still challenged, and that saddens me."
Claybrook works with Mission Metro St. Louis, a Christian group that reaches out to all faiths to unite in fellowship, prayer, cooperation and leadership in the community.
One reason to remember the Dred Scott case, he said, is because "every chance we have to say, 'We failed, Lord, we're sorry, give us another chance,' is a good thing."
The Dred Scott Case
BACKGROUND: Dred Scott's case was based on the fact that he lived on free soil for a long period of time.
One of the most important cases ever tried in the United States, it was heard in St. Louis' Old Courthouse. The U.S. Supreme Court decided the case in 1857, and it hastened the start of the Civil War.
When the first case was first filed in 1846, Scott was in his late 40s. He was born in Virginia around 1799 and was the property, as his parents had been, of the Peter Blow family. Scott moved to St. Louis with the Blows in 1830, but was soon sold . He was purchased by Dr. John Emerson, a military surgeon stationed at Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis and accompanied him to posts in Illinois, Minnesota and the Wisconsin Territory, where slavery had been prohibited by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
During this period, Dred Scott married Harriet Robinson, also a slave, at Fort Snelling; they later had four children, two boys who died in infancy and two girls, Eliza and Lizzie. In 1842, the Emersons moved to St. Louis. John Emerson died the following year, and it is believed that his widow hired out Dred Scott, Harriet and their children to work for other families.
THE LAWSUIT: On April 6, 1846, Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, filed suit against Irene Emerson for their freedom.
In the past, Missouri courts supported the doctrine of "once free, always free." Dred Scott could not read or write and had no money. The Blow family, Dred's original owners, backed him financially. The support of such friends helped the Scotts through nearly 11 years of complex and often disappointing litigation.
The case was first brought to trial in 1846 on the first floor, west wing courtroom of St. Louis' Old Courthouse. The Scotts lost the first trial because hearsay evidence was presented, but they were granted the right by the judge to a second trial. In the second trial, held in the same courtroom in 1850, a jury of 12 white men heard the evidence and decided that Dred Scott and his family should be free.
The case was appealed to the Missouri State Supreme Court, which in 1852 reversed the ruling made at the Old Courthouse. With the help of a new team of lawyers who hated slavery, Dred Scott filed suit in St. Louis Federal Court in 1854. The case was decided against them, but the Scotts appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
THE DECISION: On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. Seven of the nine justices agreed that Dred Scott should remain a slave, but Taney did not stop there. He also ruled that as a slave, Dred Scott was not a citizen of the United States, and therefore had no right to bring suit in the federal courts on any matter. In addition,Taney declared that Scott had never been free, because slaves were personal property; thus the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional, and the federal government had no right to prohibit slavery in the new territories.
THE RESULT: The American public reacted strongly to the Dred Scott decision. Anti-slavery groups feared that slavery would spread unchecked. The new Republican Party, founded in 1854 to prohibit the spread of slavery, renewed its fight to gain control of Congress and the courts. It led to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States and South Carolina's secession from the Union. The Dred Scott Decision moved the country to the brink of Civil War.
Irene Emerson was remarried in 1850 to Calvin C. Chaffee, a northern congressman opposed to slavery. After the Supreme Court decision, she turned Dred and Harriet Scott and their two daughters over to Dred's old friends, the Blows, who gave the Scotts their freedom on May 26, 1857. On Sept. 17, 1858, Dred Scott died of tuberculosis.
This information is from a history provided by the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, with research from the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. Also see a historical account on the Catholic Cemeteries of St. Louis website at http://stlouisreview.com/rqS. The Old Courthouse has an exhibit, "Legacy of Courage," and a 17-minute film,"Slavery on Trial," detailing the struggle for freedom of Dred and Harriet Scott and the Supreme Court decision that declared that African Americans had "no rights a white man was bound to respect."
WHAT: The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, Friends of Dred Scott, Young Friends of Dred Scott and the community kicked off the Dred Scott Statue Campaign in October 2010 with the unveiling of a 2-foot bronzed maquette. The life-sized statue was dedicated June 8 at the Old Courthouse where Dred and Harriet began their quest for freedom.
WHY: Costs associated with the finishing and unveiling of the work still need to be covered.
PENNY DRIVE: The Dred Scott Statue Penny Drive is an important part of the fundraising, with schools and organizations taking part. During its Mission Week last year, for example, students at DeSmet Jesuit High School conducted a "penny war" with proceeds going to the foundation. Several other Catholic schools have taken part in the drive, including Cor Jesu Academy, St. Raphael, St. Paul in Fenton and St. Ann in Normandy. The penny drive was seen as a natural fit because visitors to Dred Scott's gravesite at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis often leave pennies on the headstone. Many believe the penny is left as a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln, an icon for the abolition of slavery.
HOW TO HELP: Contributions may be made via the website thedredscottfoundation.org or sent to the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 2009, Florissant MO 63032-2009. A 3-inch Scott-Lincoln medal also is available on the website.
Dred Scott died on Sept. 17, 1858, after less than 16 months of freedom. He was buried in St. Louis's Wesleyan cemetery near Grand and Laclede in St. Louis, with expenses paid by the Blow family. When it was anticipated the cemetery would close, Taylor Blow, who it is reported had become Catholic in 1865, moved the body to Calvary Cemetery.
The gravesite was unmarked and remained anonymous for years. Jesuit Father Edward Dowling, a geneologist with the Baden Historical Society, rediscovered Scott's gravesite in time for the centennial of the Dred Scott case in 1957. Father Dowling encouraged efforts to mark the grave. On March 6, 1957, Scott's descendants and Father Dowling joined the president of St. Louis University Law School Student Bar Association to lay a wreath on the still-unmarked grave, following ceremonies in the Old Courthouse. A headstone was installed and dedicated later that year.
Harriet Scott is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in St. Louis County. A marker alongside the grave of her husband in Calvary points out that she was an American patriot and that her plea for equality was raised in obscurity but became the rallying cry for a people determined to abolish slavery.
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