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Dred Scott's great-great-granddaughter erects new monument fitting of his legacy

A monument to Dred Scott. It is tall and black, with his name and likeness engraved toward the top. It is photographed from below, rising up into the sky. In front of it is a wooden white cross and a bouquet of American flag flowers.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
A new monument to Dred Scott is seen on Thursday at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. Scott was an enslaved man whose fight for freedom was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dred Scott, an enslaved man who lost his bid for freedom, will be honored with a new memorial monument at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis on Saturday.

In 1846, Scott and his wife, Harriet, filed their freedom suits in St. Louis’ Old Courthouse. After 11 years of waiting, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of its most infamous decisions. The high court found that enslaved Black people were not U.S. citizens in upholding the institution of slavery ahead of the Civil War.

The Dred Scott decision is cemented in St. Louis and Missouri history. For years, his descendants have been working to preserve his name and legacy. His old modest headstone at Calvary Cemetery has been a place for tributes and reflection. But the headstone was easy to miss, said Lynne Jackson, Scott’s great-great-granddaughter. Now, it’s been replaced with a 9-foot-tall black granite monument.

“The front of it is reminiscent of a courthouse,” said Jackson. “That’s what my original thought was. The fact that he’s on the top means that he was able to rise above the law within his own heart and by the good help of those who helped him throughout the 11 years of his trial.”

Jackson is the mastermind behind the monument and the founder and president of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation. Scott’s name is held up by five pillars that tell pieces of his and his wife’s story, excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and his obituary, scripture and a quote from Frederick Douglass.

The top of a monument to Dred Scott. The monument is black, and reflective enough that the trees and sky are seen in its surface. The top features Scott's name and likeness engraved into the stone.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
A monument to Dred Scott is seen on Thursday at Calvary Cemetery.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with Jackson about the new monument ahead of the dedication.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Marissanne Lewis-Thompson: This new memorial monument has been years in the making. What led to it?

Lynne Jackson: Merely the fact that the first one didn't really tell you who he really was. It said that he fought for his freedom and that his friend [Henry] Taylor Blow freed him. But there wasn't space to say very much. So, I was very much interested in being able to tell more about why Dred Scott was important. As well as, it was small and hard to see. As you look around where we're sitting, they're all pretty much ground level. It's hard to have found it. I myself drove by and couldn't see it from time to time. So this one I wanted people to see, because his is among the top three that are asked for in the cemetery, which has over 300,000 people in it.

Lewis-Thompson: What were some of the roadblocks that you might have faced trying to get this whole thing together?

Jackson: Well, COVID-19 was one, because again I've had this idea for several several years, but when COVID hit I thought, 'wow.' We were going to have a fundraiser and it got canceled, because two weeks before everything got shut down and I thought, OK, what can we do. Why don't we start trying to plan for the memorial and do a GoFundMe? So, that's how it got started. It was a bit of a roadblock in that it was not a good time to have a fundraiser, but we found a fundraiser that worked.

Lewis-Thompson: Why is Dred Scott's story a significant part of U.S. history, particularly to Missouri and Illinois history?

Jackson: Well, his case is important, because if he had not fought for 11 years, then who knows. There would not have been a Dred Scott decision. You had to go through the Missouri Supreme Court to get to the U.S. Supreme Court. After 6 years, most people would have said, 'OK, I'm done.' But they tenaciously continued and without that who knows?The Civil War, of course, was a major outcome of that, but we still may have had slavery into the 1900s.

Lewis-Thompson: Dred is typically the focal point of the story. How does his wife, Harriet's, legacy play a role in this larger story?

Jackson: She herself filed for freedom separate from Dred. They did it at the same time, on the same day, in the same place, but she had her own case. That's something a lot of people don't realize how important that was. Her opportunity to get freedom would have covered her daughter's, because so goes the mother so goes the child. And yet, had anything happened to Dred and she didn't have a case they would not have had a chance. And this situation if anything happened to him then she and her daughters still had an opportunity for freedom.

Dred Scott's great-great-granddaughter erects new monument fitting of his legacy

Lewis-Thompson: As his great-great-granddaughter, how does your family talk about this history, and are there other stories about his life that you remember hearing about?

Jackson: When we were younger, we didn't sit around chatting about it. When holidays or notable days came, then we would see recognitions or my dad and his brothers would be apart of it. But over the years, things change. They were born in the 1920s, and they had to live through times when Blacks weren't given much credence. So, now it's a lot easier for us to talk about our history, and I just felt inspired to make that happen.

Lewis-Thompson: Do you remember the first time you visited your great-great-grandfather's gravesite? And I'm curious about what that experience was like for you.

Jackson: I don't really remember the first time I visited, but there's a picture of the first time. And the first there was no headstone there, but we were being shown where he was buried, which is right here where we're sitting. And that was a pivotal moment in history when his grave was recognized and then soon would be marked. So, I have pictures of the first time I was here, but I can't say honestly that I remember standing here.

Lewis-Thompson: When you look at those pictures, what goes through your mind?

Jackson: That my mom and dad and my brother and I were fortunate enough to be here and know. We didn't understand, as my brother and I were just little kids. We were under 4. But my parents and my dad, who actually carried on the legacy, were I'm sure very honored to have been able to stand here and be in Ebony magazine and say, "Wow, this is a historic spot. And soon, it's going to be marked with a headstone."

Lewis-Thompson: You are the founder and president of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation. Why was it important for you to maintain the legacy of Dred Scott?

Jackson: Too many of our stories go unheard and unheralded and unknown. Mine was not such a story, and yet there's so much of it that was unknown and yet again I want to encourage people to study their own history. So if my story can help someone else care about their own story, that's a personal thing for me. But nationally it's just important to say, 'Look, we relegated this man in history.' There was a time in the early 1900s when a book was published about African American history and he is not in it. It was a pivotal moment in history, the Dred Scott decision. I call it the linchpin of our nation's history, because things turned radically after the Civil War and because of the Civil War, which was partly because of the Dred Scott decision, which was partly because they didn't give up. So, I think it's just critical that we not forget people like Dred and Harriet and so many others.

The words "The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation 2023" are engraved into a shiny black bench.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation is dedicating the new monument to Dred Scott on Saturday.

Lewis-Thompson: For years, people have continued to visit Dred Scott's grave. What is it about him and his story that you think draws people to it?

Jackson: The courage to fight the system. It was sometimes considered seditious to sue your master. And yet in Missouri, the law 'once free, always free' gave them the right to do that. But you still had to step out and do that. So, that's one aspect of it. But then the rest of it for me is the continuance of it. I usually tell young people like, you just got your license and you're going to go out and kick it. Well, you get a ticket and now you've got to wait two weeks to go to court. Can you imagine waiting 11 years to get an answer under the circumstances under which they lived? So, every bit of it had to do with courage and endurance.

Lewis-Thompson: How do you hope this monument will further teach people of all ages about who he was, especially at a time where talking about Black history in this country has been contentious?

Jackson: We at the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, which was founded on three principles, commemoration, education and reconciliation, this monument encompasses all three of those ideals. In particular, I'm hoping for reconciliation to be a part of what comes out of this, because a lot of people don't realize is that there were many abolitionists and many people who were not African American who helped Dred and Harriet throughout their whole ordeal. And without them, they probably would not have made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. And so, this monument encompasses everything that our work stands for. And I think when people come and see the inspiration that's on here they will walk away with something they didn't have when they came.

Lewis-Thompson: You and your family have spent many years maintaining the legacy of Dred Scott. How do you hope it will be maintained once it's time to pass the torch to a new generation?

Jackson: When my father wondered who would pass this on after his generation, he didn't know, and actually I didn't know either. I had no clue I was going to be doing this as late as 2003. But I knew the anniversary would be in four years. And so, I said, 'Well you know we'll do something for sure,' because I've always been a planner and a manager and so forth. So, I said we're not going to sit back and just watch it on TV. But I didn't know, and I had no idea that I was destined to continue and continue. So, I'm only believing that down the road another person can pick up the banner.

Lewis-Thompson: How do you hope people will remember your contributions to Dred Scott's legacy?

Jackson: I hope they remember it as an encouragement. Not only to study history. Not only to get up and do something themselves and make a difference in the world, but to believe. To believe that all things are possible.

The dedication is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.