Lynne M. Jackson smiled for a photograph in front of the Dred and Harriet Scott statue outside St. Louis’ Old Courthouse.
“Is she someone famous?” said Pastor T, a curious minister passing by carrying a Bible.
“I’m their great-great-granddaughter,” she said.
“Oh, that’s amazing. I’m so glad to meet you. Thank you for your family.”
She smiled a little bigger.
Jackson is proud to be a direct descendant of the couple, more than 1 1/2 centuries after Dred Scott sued for his freedom from slavery. The landmark case was first filed in 1846 in St. Louis and was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Though the Supreme Court ruled that he should remain a slave, the Dred Scott Decision of 1857 drew a strong reaction from the American public and moved the country to the brink of Civil War.
Jackson founded The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation in 2006 to educate the public about the Scotts’ struggle for freedom and commemorate the 150th anniversary of the decision. She remains its president and was the driving force behind the statue, which was dedicated in 2012.
“I have been overwhelmed by the incredible response of people whose lives he impacted,” said Jackson, of Creve Coeur, Mo. “So many people from all over the country participated in the anniversary events. One class even wrote a play about him and invited me to see it. It was very moving.”
That was Peggy Lewis LeCompte’s gifted class at East St. Louis High School. LeCompte, a retired East St. Louis educator and president of Top Ladies of Distinction, is also on the foundation’s board of directors. Foundation members are planning The Dred Scott Freedom Awards Dinner on Dec. 5, the eve of the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery.
The dinner will honor 14 people from around the country who have used their freedom and oppotunities to accomplish something in their lives to benefit the public. Proceeds from the dinner will help pay off the Dred and Harriet Scott statue. About $20,000 of the $250,000 cost of the statue is still outstanding after several fundraising efforts.
“When I joined the board, I couldn’t believe the statue was not paid for,” LeCompte said. “I said, ‘We need to get this done.’ The Scotts are so important to freedom in this country.”
The first inkling Jackson had that it’s an honor to be Dred Scott’s great-great-grandaughter, came in 1957 on the 100th anniversary of the landmark decision. She was just 5 years old.
“My father played Dred Scott (in a re-creation of the trial). He sat right here at this very table,” she said, sitting at that very table in a second-floor courtroom of the Old Courthouse on a recent morning. “It was a very big deal. The courtroom was packed.”
She learned a few things about Dred that day.
“He never spoke. Blacks weren’t allowed to speak for themselves in the courtroom,” Jackson said. “And he wore a bow tie.”
She didn’t learn much more about Dred Scott for a long time.
“Growing up, we weren’t told a lot of stories. Slavery in your past was something you didn’t talk about,” she said. “Families wanted to start their children out with a clean slate. If I had known when I was younger how important he was, I would have asked a million questions.”
In school, all she got was “a quick blurb in history class. There was a Civil War. Slavery ended. And that was about it.”
When she started doing her reasearch, “it was a very humbling experience. It took me a while to get used to saying ‘I’m his great-great-granddaughter. It got easier over time.’”
Jackson has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Her career started at the Girl Scout Council of Greater St. Louis, where she became business operations director. After administrative positions at Ford Motor Co. and Cass Logistics, she was manager of general services at Brian Cave LLC law firm until 2009.
Since 2006, the foundation she founded “has taken over my life. I’ve become a spokesman for the family. I’m not the only great-great grandchild — I have a brother and sister and cousins and other descendants. I do it happily.”
She travels around the country sharing the history of the Dred Scott case and details of the Scotts’ personal history. Her audiences have ranged from a third-grade class to a distiguished gathering at Harvard University to the National Conference of Attorneys General.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “But it’s not about me. I’m just the storyteller. I’m the messenger.”
Along the way, she has learned things about her ancestors’ personal lives that had been lost.
Harriet and Dred Scott had two sons, who died very young, and two daughters, Lizzie and Eliza,” Jackson said. “For a long time, we thought we were descendants of the wrong daughter. It wasn’t until 2006 we found out it wasn’t Lizzie. Records show that Eliza married Wilson Madison.” They were Jackson’s great-grandparents.
Before the Civil War, it was considered seditious for a slave to sue his master.
“But the laws said he had the right to sue. It wasn’t easy. They knew there would be trouble, but they had the conviction to go for it.”
The Scotts had to be careful because of widespread resentment.
“We found out that they hid their two daughters away during the trial. To this day, nobody knows where.”
While he was a slave, Dred did lots of different things.
“They were domestics, but Dred worked as a stevedore on the riverfont. And as a cook at Jefferson Barracks. It was common for owners to hire out their slaves. Harriet was a laundress.”
What else do you know about Harriet?
“Harriet reminds me of my Aunt Alma. She was strong-willed and confident. She made her own decisions. Not many people know she filed her own lawsuit. But the lawsuit never used her last name. The court ignored their marriage. She was always referred to as ‘Harriet, a woman of color.’
“Their lawsuits were later merged to make it easier for the lawyers. But her intent was if she won her own case, her daughters would be free, too. It shows they were thinking. That they had a strategy.”
The series of trials that led to the Supreme Court decision was a roller coaster ride for the couple. After the second case, which they won, they had a brief moment of freedom, Jackson said.
“They were jubilant just for a moment. Then it was overturned and it had a soap opera ending.”
They didn’t get their freedom for good until two months after the Supreme Court decision. Taylor Blow, the son of Dred’s original owner, paid $1,000 for their freedom licenses on May 26, 1857.
“He became quite famous after the decision because the country was in an uproar,” Jackson said. “He worked as a porter at the Barnum Hotel. People would make it a point to go meet the person who caused such a ruckus.”
She also found that Dred Scott’s grave was unmarked for 100 years after his death in 1858. At some point, it was moved to Calvary Cemetery and now has a headstone.
Harriet, who died in 1876, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. She lived through the Civil War and got to see the abolition of slavery throughout America.
Life goes on
Jackson never tires of talking about Dred and Harriet Scott.
The foundation’s goal, she said is to promote the commemoration, education and reconciliation of our histories, “with an eye toward healing the woulds of the past.”
Her family has been very supportive of her efforts.
“My husband Brian is my rock. He’s my backbone, my best friend and my biggest fan. We have two grown children, a boy and a girl. They are thrilled about their history and proud of me.”
Jackson also has a sister and two brothers, one of whom is deceased.
Now, she is looking forward to the Dec. 5 awards dinner.
“The dinner brings things full circle,” she said. “We had a dinner in 2007 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Dred Scott Decision. It started with a cause and ended with a remedy.”
Educating people about Dred and Harriet Scott is part of that remedy.
“It’s all easy to me,” Jackson said. “I enjoy talking about it so much.
If Lynne could meet Dred Scott and Harriet Scott today, what would she say to them?
“Where did you hide those girls? To this day, there never has been a clue.”
AT a glance
Dred Scott Freedom Awards Dinner information
- Who: The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation will present awards to 14 people who have taken advantage of their opportunities to be the first in their field or to accomplish something to benefit the public
- When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5; on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States. VIP reception at 5:30 p.m.; dinner at 6:30 p.m.
- Where: Union Station, 1820 Market St., St. Louis
- Tickets: $100 per person; VIP tickets, $150 per person
- Information and sponsorship packages: Awards Dinner chairman Peggy L. LeCompte, email@example.com, 618-277-9088 or 618-593-7196; Lynne M. Jackson, 314-532-5613.
- Donations can be mailed to: Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 2009, Florissant, MO 63032-2009
The Dred Scott case
- Dred Scott was born in Viginia about 1799, a slave to the Peter Blow family. His case for freedom was predicated on the fact that he was taken by a subsequent owner, an officer in the U.S. Army, from the slave state of Missouri to the free state of Illinois and then to the free territory of Wisconsin. He lived on free soil for a long time.
- April 6, 1846 — Dred and Harriet Scott filed suit against Irene Emerson, after they had tried to buy their freedom and were refused. The trial was on the first floor, west wing of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis. They lost the case, but were granted a second trial.
- 1850 — A jury of 12 white men decided the Scott family should be free. Emerson appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
- 1852 — The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the decision, saying that Missouri law allowed slavery, and it would uphold the rights of slave owners at all costs.
- 1854 — Dred Scott filed suit in St. Louis Fedreal Court against John F.A. Sanford, Emerson’s brother and the executor of her estate. It was decided in favor of Sanford. Scott appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- March 6, 1857 — Seven of the nine Supreme Court Justices decided Scott should remain a slave, that he was not a citizen of the United States and that he had never been free because slaves were personal property. Anti-slavery groups reacted strongly, and the Dred Scott Decision moved the country to the brink of Civil War.
- May 26, 1857 — Taylor Blow, the son of Peter Blow, paid $1,000 each for Dred and Harriet Scott’s freedom licenses.