The Dred Scott Decision
In the 1800s, Dred Scott a slave owned by a man named Dr. John Emerson who married a woman by the name of Eliza Irene Sanford. Now, Scott lived in Missouri, but his owner took him on trips to free territories such as Illinois and Wisconsin. Upon returning to Missouri, Scott argued that the “law of freedom,” which stated that any slave who traveled through a free territory was now free and could not be taken back into slavery, should apply to him. Scott sued for his freedom, and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court.
Incredibly, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Africans brought to America and their descendants were not citizens of the United States and therefore did not have the right to sue because they were technically not citizens. Chief Justice Taney explained the decision by saying that “we think people of African ancestry are not included and were not intended to be included under the word citizens in the Constitution and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.” He went on to say that “they [blacks] have no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”
This decision had significant implications for African Americans, as it meant that they were not protected by the Constitution and did not have access to due process. In other words, they were not considered equal to white citizens and could be treated unfairly without consequence. This included being subjected to horrific conditions on slave plantations, being separated from their families, and being denied education and basic human rights. The Dred Scott decision also had broader implications for the nation, as it helped pour fuel on the tensions that eventually led to the Civil War.
The Impact of the Decision
The Dred Scott decision was a major setback for the rights of African Americans, as it reinforced the idea that they were not fully human and did not deserve the same rights and protections as Caucasian citizens. This contributed to the perpetuation of slavery, the ongoing discrimination against African Americans, and it took many years and significant efforts to overturn its harmful effects.
Thankfully, the Constitution has since been amended to include the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, which granted citizenship to African Americans and ensured that they were protected under the law. The 13th Amendment, which was ratified in 1865, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime (We definitely need to discuss this in another blog). The 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States and ensured that they were protected under the law. The 15th Amendment, which was ratified in 1870, granted the right to vote to African American men. These amendments were crucial in the fight for civil rights and helped to pave the way for more equality and justice for all citizens.
However, despite these important victories, the struggle for civil rights for African Americans has been ongoing. It has taken many years of activism and resistance to challenge and dismantle the systems of oppression that have been put in place. And while progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to fully realize the ideals of liberty and justice for all.
For more information like this contact me to schedule a Cross Cultural Literacy Session for your church or organization. You can also check out our Recommended Resources to see a list of videos, books & documentaries I believe would be helpful to those who are looking to learn more.