The Senate approved a resolution formally condemning the Missouri Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision last week, rejecting the verdict more than a century after it was handed down. Scott’s great-great-granddaughter, Lynne Jackson, was the mind behind the effort.
Jackson, president and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, said the path to the resolution began years earlier when she set out to recognize the legacy of her ancestors. The foundation raised $250,000 to commission and install the only statue of Scott that includes his wife, Harriet Robinson Scott. The statue was unveiled in 2012 outside the Old Courthouse in St. Louis.
Despite intending to stop there, the Scotts’ story became her life’s work.
“My original intent was to commemorate the anniversary for a year and raise money for a statue of Dred,” Jackson told The Missouri Times. “The statue was completed, but the story just kept unfolding — people became more and more interested, and it mushroomed and it’s wonderful. Our focus is commemoration, education, and reconciliation, and they all intersect with each other.”
Scott and his wife sued for their family’s freedom in 1840, given that the family had been enslaved for several years in states that had abolished slavery before returning to Missouri. Missouri’s circuit court ruled in the couple’s favor, but the state’s Supreme Court overturned the decision, opining that slave states had no obligation to acknowledge the laws of free states.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the verdict, denying any person of African descent citizenship under the U.S. Constitution regardless of enslavement or liberation. Scott was eventually granted freedom and worked in St. Louis until his death in 1858. Missouri abolished slavery with the ratification of its second constitution in 1865.
Jackson began work on the resolution’s language in 2014, encouraged by others in the foundation and her community, but it fell victim to a few years of stagnation and unfortunate timing. The resolution hit a roadblock amid the chaos of the 2018 session, laid dormant in 2019, and stalled along with session as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the state last year.
The Senate unanimously voted to approve the resolution sponsored by Sen. Steven Roberts last week, and a bipartisan effort in the House from Reps. Raychel Proudie and Dottie Bailey using the same language passed out of committee in February. Jackson said Missouri’s bicentennial was the perfect time for the resolution to move forward.
“The draft indicates that it’s the state’s 200th anniversary this year, so I find that to be a good time to make this happen,” she said. “All things happen when they are supposed to, and we’re very hopeful that this is the year.”
Jackson said the reckoning of Missouri’s past was an important step for the state to move forward and a victory to everyone who had worked on the effort.
“In light of current times, it would mean a lot to everyone to know that times have changed,” she said. “I would like to think times have changed yet again and that people recognize the inhumanity of such decisions. To overturn it gives it closure and allows us to stand up and say that was wrong.”
Photos provided by Lynne Jackson.