Statue of Dred and Harriet Scott

A full day of festivities on August 12 at the Missouri History Museum will commemorate the day that Dred and Harriet Scott were granted their freedom.

“Harriet and Dred Scott are true American heroes,” Dred Scott Heritage Foundation President and Founder Lynne M. Jackson, told The American just before the bronze statue bearing their likeness was unveiled downtown back in 2012.

Next Saturday (August 12), The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation and collaborative partners the Missouri History Museum and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will spend the entire day commemorating the 160thanniversary of the day when the Scotts received their freedom.

Though the activities will be held in August, the actual date their freedom was granted was May 26, 1857.

That day was a long time coming and the surprise happy ending for the couple who took their fight for freedom from the steps of the Old Courthouse to the U.S. Supreme Court – and changed the course of American history in the process.

The case was first brought to trial in 1846. After being granted a second trial, a jury decided that the Scotts should be allowed their freedom in 1850. The decision was overturned on appeal by Scott’s owner Irene Emerson to the Missouri Supreme Court. Dred Scott filed suit in St. Louis Federal Court in 1854 against John F. A. Sanford, Emerson’s brother and executor of the Emerson estate. The case was decided in favor of Sanford, but Dred Scott appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court – which also ruled in Sanford’s favor in 1857 and with the ruling deemed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional. The decision added an unprecedented level of fervor to the abolitionist movement.

“For 12 years they actively fought for justice and freedom, the core values of the American dream,” said Jackson, who is also the great-great granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott. “Their brave and tireless efforts led directly to the abolition of slavery in our country.”

Their freedom didn’t come through the courts, but it eventually came.

Irene Emerson was remarried in 1850 to Calvin C. Chaffee, a northern congressman opposed to slavery. After the Supreme Court decision, Mrs. Chaffee turned Dred and Harriet Scott and their two daughters over to Dred’s old friends, the Blows, who gave the Scotts their freedom on May 26, 1857.

Saturday will feature a full day of festivities and presentations to commemorate the historic moment. 

They will include:

  • A play, A Man of His Time, written by Kate Taney Billingsley, a descendant of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of the Dred Scott Decision, and performed and directed by the St Louis Black Repertory Company
  • A presentation by Lynne Madison Jackson titled Dred Scott: The History You Never Knew, revealing little known facts about St. Louis’ history and its relationship to the Dred Scott case
  • A musical composition entitled Freedom Suite, a powerful three-part movement written for the Dred Scott family by Dr. Barbara Harbach, Professor of Music at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, to be performed by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, featuring Alison Harney, Jessica Cheng, Chris Tantillo, Melissa Brooks and David DeRiso.
  • Panel discussion of Dred Scott Presents: Sons and Daughters of Reconciliation. Panelists include the families of Thomas Jefferson, (Shannon Lanier) Peter Blow, Scott’s owners (John LeBourgeois), Dred Scott (Lynne Jackson), Justice Roger B. Taney (Kate Taney Billingsley) and Jefferson Davis (Bertram Hayes-Davis). Their stories will reveal facts known and unknown facts about how their families are connected to the Dred Scott Decision.

For younger participants, the History Clubhouse will have special Dred Scott activities, and games provided by Anthony Clair, owner of Time 4Fun Events. 

Children will have the opportunity to learn from the Dred Scott Activity and Coloring Book, written by Lynne Madison Jackson, for the Foundation, supported by Really Big Coloring Books.

In addition, local actors John LaGrone and Peggy Nealy Harris from the Dred Scott Theatre Troupe and the Missouri History Museum’s Civil Rights Exhibit will portray famous characters of the Dred Scott Decision. Local artists Debi Pickler and CBABI Bayoc will create art in the grand hall.

“The memory of Dred Scott and the important shift he helped to bring about in American society is a story that deserves to be recognized and remembered for all future generations,” said Jackson.

The commemoration of the 160th anniversary of the freedom of Dred and Harriet Scott will take place from 11 a.m.  – 5 p.m. at the Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd in Forest Park. The event is free and open to the public. The program was initiated and generously sponsored by Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard P.C. For more information on the event, visit https://dredscottlives.org/

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