May 26: Prop 8 and Dred Scott

dred-scottDo you think the California Supreme Court was aware that it was handing down the Prop 8 decision on marriage equality on the anniversary of Dred and Harriet Scott’s manumission?

I hope the odd coincidence of history is predictive and, despite California’s court decision, the U.S. will soon be celebrating the “manumission” to marry for whosoever will.

On March 6, 1857, after an 11-year court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott, an African-American slave, had “no rights that a white man need respect.”

On May 26, 1857, Taylor Blow, a son of Scott’s original owner, purchased Scott and his family in order to set them free.

Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia about 1790. He was sold to a doctor who later moved to Illinois and eventually to Missouri with all his property. In 1846, Dred Scott filed a suit in Missouri seeking freedom for himself, his wife, and two daughters. He based his case on the fact that slavery was prohibited in Illinois, and because he had lived there, he had been freed.

Scott’s pursuit of their freedom when on for seven years in various courts, with one higher court after another reversing previous decisions. Throughout the ordeal, the children of Dred Scott’s original owners gave him financial support. Finally, after the Missouri Circuit Court ruled that “once free, always free,” Scott’s case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The federal Supreme Court ruled that Scott had no right to sue because blacks were not U.S. citizens. Scott and his family were returned to their owner.

Fifteen months after Scott had been freed by the Blow family, who were Catholic, he died of tuberculosis. When Dred Scott died on September 17, 1858, the Blow family arranged to have him buried in the Catholic Calvary Cemetery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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