That in turn can help free both U.S. Whites and Blacks
By Charles Hallman Staff Writer She always knew about them, but Dred and Harriet Scott’s great-great granddaughter says she’s learning more about them every day. Lynne Jackson heads the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, and since 2007 she has been very active in ensuring that her descendents’ place in American history is fully recognized. In a brief MSR interview, Jackson explained last week during a visit to the Twin Cities why her great-great grandparents’ story must be told. “I think the Dred Scott case was so pivotal and so few people really know what it was, what it did, and how it impacted the nation,” she pointed out. “There are so many things about Dred Scott that is wrong. They weren’t pawns and puppets, and at any time they could have stopped. I applaud them that they kept going.” “So many young people don’t know who Dred Scott is and that he lived in Minnesota,” observed Minnesota African-American Museum Founder Roxanne Givens, who introduced Jackson at the May 21 afternoon event at the downtown Minneapolis Hennepin County Library. Jackson also visited the Scotts’ former home at Fort Snelling and made speaking engagements in the area.
“We always knew we were related to Dred Scott,” said Jackson, who works as an attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. As she began her presentation, she announced, “I didn’t have any idea I was going to this,” stressing that in her talk the audience would hear “the rest of [Scott’s] story.” Dred Scott was born into slavery in Virginia around 1799 and was sold multiple times. He eventually wound up in Minnesota, a free U.S. territory at the time, where he met and married his second wife Harriet. It was there the Scotts decided, after promises to free them were not kept, to further pursue their freedom through the courts. A dozen years and five trials culminated in an 1857 Supreme Court decision ruling that they had no legal rights to sue because they were owned property, not U.S. citizens. “We look at the Scott story as a family story,” explained Jackson. “It was about getting themselves and their [two] daughters free.” She found records that showed that the Scotts did gain their freedom a couple of months after the court decision: “Dred died a free man” in 1858 and Harriet died in 1876. “Dred and Harriet both were in the [St. Louis] phone book. She ran a laundry business and continued to live there. She was the first entrepreneur of the family.” A geologist’s persistence eventually led her family to find where Harriet Scott was born and buried, added Jackson, who advised the audience to listen to elders in their families “and write it down.” She said she learned plenty from her grandmother. “One of the nice things about digging around is that things come from nowhere,” she said. “I found a gentleman in St. Louis who had written a musical about Dred Scott and it had hardly been performed.” The Scott case had a profound and lasting effect on American history, Jackson said. “You had Fredrick Douglass making speeches, and the Lincoln-Douglas debate was a result of this. You would see numerous [newspaper] articles written on this. That helped fuel the debate and led to the [Civil] War.” Jackson’s foundation has worked to get a Dred Scott statue erected outside a St. Louis courthouse. The street where it is located was renamed in 2007 after her great-great grandfather, and a bust of him has been installed inside the state capitol. “We have a Dred Scott Penny Drive that many schools participate in” each year, she said. Longtime history professor Mahmoud El-Kati, who attended the event, said he learned something new about Dred Scott. “It was so much, it boggles the mind,” he said, adding that slavery is an integral part of U.S. history and must be included in all historical discussion. “You can’t discuss America without slavery. The institution of slavery covers most of American history. There is no institution in America that lasted longer than slavery or is as old as slavery,” said El-Kati. The professor pointed out that unless America start talking about slavery, this country won’t be fully liberated. “It is my contention that [talking about slavery] is what is going to free America, both Black and White… We [Blacks] should not be ashamed” of slavery, believes El-Kati. Jackson agreed with El-Kati. She said she speaks at “many, many schools” about the Scotts. “I have a standing invitation every year at several schools. It’s important for me, too, because I understand that Black history has not been taught in our schools, [or] in some places better than others. “It’s a springboard. People need to go back and really study — you can’t read just one book or maybe two or three books to really understand it all. “This is my story,” concluded Jackson, who urged Blacks to learn more about their history. “Don’t stop with Dred Scott.” Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]