JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Dred Scott, the former slave who sued for his freedom in a St. Louis court and helped galvanize anti-slavery efforts around the nation in the 19th century, was inducted Wednesday into the Hall of Famous Missourians.
A bust of Scott, who died a year after the landmark Supreme Court decision that bears his name, now will be part of a display in the state Capitol’s third-floor rotunda.
In an 1857 decision on Scott’s case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that black people were not citizens and did not have the right to sue. The court also said the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and said Congress could not regulate slavery anywhere.
The decision angered anti-slavery advocates and pushed the U.S. closer to the Civil War.
On Wednesday, lawmakers and Scott’s descendants said Scott’s case helped spur the passage of constitutional amendments that ban slavery and recognize black people as citizens instead of property.
“Even in losing, he won,” said state Rep. Tommie Pierson, who is black and from St. Louis. “None of the freedom that we experience would be realized had not someone stood up, had not someone sacrificed themself.”
Born a slave in Virginia in 1795, Scott moved with his owners to St. Louis in 1830 and then later to Illinois, a free state, and what was then the territory of Wisconsin, where slavery was illegal.
After unsuccessfully trying to buy his freedom from his owner, Scott filed suit in St. Louis Circuit Court in 1846 claiming he should be freed because he had previously lived in a free state.
The St. Louis court ruled Scott was a free man, but Missouri’s state supreme court ruled two years later that he was not. Five years after that, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Scott, who was later given his freedom and worked in St. Louis until his death in 1858.
Lynne Jackson, Scott’s great-great-granddaughter and the founder the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, said Scott and his wife made considerable sacrifices to keep their case going through the courts, even sending their two daughters to live with other people while the cases were being heard.
House Speaker Steven Tilley, of Perryville, who selected Scott for induction into the hall, praised Scott for his perseverance in pushing on with the case through 11 years of legal wrangling.
“Today I ask that everyone see Dred Scott not just as a name on a famous court case or a symbol for a chapter in our nation’s history that I’m so glad that we’re far beyond, but instead simply (as) a human being,” said Tilley, who is white. “After all, that’s what Scott wanted to be perceived as.”
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