JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The bipartisan push to formally denounce the Missouri Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision is nearing the finish line this session.
A bipartisan resolution from Reps. Raychel Proudie and Dottie Bailey would formally condemn the high court’s 1852 decision denying Scott and his wife’s suits for freedom. The resolution was presented before the Senate by Sen. Steven Roberts Thursday before being unanimously adopted.
“The Dred Scott decision outraged abolitionists who saw the Supreme Court’s ruling as a way to stop debate about slavery in the territories,” Roberts said. “This resolution states that Missourians will forever affirm that all people are created equal.”
Roberts sponsored a parallel resolution this session; it unanimously passed the upper chamber in March and is awaiting action on the House floor.
The Scotts’ great-great-granddaughter, Lynne Jackson, has spearheaded the effort to denounce the opinion. Jackson, president and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, began work on the resolution’s language in 2014, encouraged by others in the foundation and her community.
The effort 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. Jackson previously told The Missouri Times the state’s bicentennial was a fitting year for the measure to pass.
Dred Scott and wife Harriett sued for freedom for their family 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 Scotts’ favor, but the state’s Supreme Court overturned the decision in 1857, 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.