From the Joplin Globe
MISSOURI ONCE once again has an opportunity to right a longstanding wrong.
A resolution under consideration in the state Senate would “fully and entirely” renounce the March 22, 1852, Missouri Supreme Court decision that declared Dred Scott an enslaved man. It is sponsored by state Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, who said its approval would show “that we, as Missourians, will forever affirm that all people are created equal,” the Missouri Independent reported.
Dred Scott was born into slavery and was sold to a physician in St. Louis. When the physician moved to parts of Illinois and Minnesota, where slavery was outlawed, Scott and his wife, Harriet, became free — that is, until the couple returned to St. Louis with the physician when he retired.
A St. Louis jury declared the couple free under Missouri law, which recognized that they were freed when their owners took them into territory where slavery was prohibited. That had been the standard judicial practice since the Missouri Supreme Court’s 1824 decision in Winny v. Whitesides, which supported a “once free, always free” mandate, according to the Missouri State Archives.
But the Missouri Supreme Court by 1852 had become increasingly pro-slavery. In Scott’s case, it ruled in a 2-1 decision to overturn standing precedent and return the couple to bondage. Horrifyingly, Justice William Scott, in writing the court’s opinion, argued that slavery was the will of God: “We are almost persuaded that the introduction of slavery amongst us was, in the providences of God, who makes the evil passions of men subservient to his own glory, a means of placing that unhappy race within the pale of civilized nations.”
The Missouri case eventually led to the 1857 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, which was deciding an appeal of Scott’s case. The highest court in this country declared that Black Americans weren’t even citizens and thus had no right to sue in federal courts.
Missouri can’t do much to rectify that terrible U.S. Supreme Court decision, but lawmakers here can and absolutely should condemn the state court’s ruling of 1852. It is time for Missouri to acknowledge its racist history and its past attempts to preserve and uphold slavery as the status quo.
Clearly, passage of such a resolution would largely be symbolic. It certainly can’t change the past, and it wouldn’t help Dred Scott and his wife now — except to perhaps recognize them as free Black Americans posthumously.
But as Roberts notes, it would be a great step forward for this state. It’s a long overdue step — 169 years overdue — and one that should be taken immediately.