Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Black History Month, Dred Scott & Me

Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair
Dred Scott
Dred Scott

I thought it appropriate at the half-way mark of "Black History Month" to add my two bits of Black History which necessarily includes "White History"; as if the two really can be separated.

On July 4, 1854, Dred Scott publishes a pamphlet, concluding: "I have no money to pay anybody at Washington to speak for me.  My fellow-men, can any of you help me in my day of trial?  Will nobody speak for me at Washington, even without hope of other reward than the blessings of a poor black man and his family?  I do not know.  I can only pray that some good heart will be moved by pity to do that for me which I cannot do for myself; and that if the right is on my side, it may be so declared by the high court to which I have appeal.

By December 30, 1854, when the Supreme Court docketed Dred Scott v. Sandford, no attorney had stepped forward.  Yet, Montgomery Blair agreed to take up a case so unpopular that no one in D.C. was willing to take it and risked his career.  Why?

Montgomery Blair stated in a letter on December 24, 1856, “I believe in the Southern Sates, almost every lawyer feels bound to give his services when asked in such a case arising in the community to which he belongs.”

 In 2007, I gave a 25-minute lecture on Montgomery Blair and the Dred Scott case and how it impacted Montgomery Blair personally.

While I won't here sketch out the history and impact of the Dred Scott case as that is a book length chore, the March 6, 1857 decision by Chief Justice Taney held that the federal Constitution created a "perpetual and impassible barrier" between whites and blacks. This barrier defined blacks as a "subordinate and inferior class of being," with no natural rights. 

We have come a long way, though obviously not far enough.


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