Stepping Stones

Building Up Hope at Juneteenth Celebration

On June 23, 2019, Project Say Something, Florence, AL, held its second annual Juneteenth Celebration, but this time in front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse.  Alabama passed a bill prohibiting the tearing down of any monument; so the event was an artistic, educational, cultural explosion that ended with a protest projection for an homage to the fight for racial justice and a tribute to Dred and Harriet Scott.

Garden Spices advocates for racial and social justice and was front and center at the Celebration.  Brian Murphy, Historian for Project Say Something, put together the following piece, which became the narration for the protest art event. The words are punctuated with images of the entire celebration. -Victorine


 

“A monument to the Scotts is a beautiful way to acknowledge this struggle and to remind all of us—black and white—that justice and equality are the paramount values of our free society.”

Dred and Harriet Scott fought for justice. In 1846 Dred filed a petition for his freedom, which was denied. He appealed in 1850 and a jury found that because Scott had lived in a free state, he was considered to be free. But in 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed its ruling, citing growing antislavery sentiment as one of the main reasons for its decision. The Scotts did not give up. They tried a federal district court in 1853 and lost, finally appealing to the Supreme Court in 1856.

Sauna Gatrey sings “Strange Fruit” with slam chaser.by Naketa Irby

Brae Allen wows us with slam and song.

Christian Bennett and Shawna Smith read history of Juneteenth.

Jason McCall wows us with powerful poetry.

Dred and Harriet were resilient. They did not give up hope. On March 6th, 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that, in the words of Chief Justice Taney, “the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” Yet on May 26th, just 2 months after this infamous ruling, the Scotts were manumitted by Taylor Blow, son of Peter Blow who had owned Dred Scott in Florence. For 16 months, until his death from tuberculosis in September 1858, Dred Scott lived as a free man.

Kerrigan Casey, artist for podium – a living monument

PSS President, Katie Owens Murphy and Founder, Exec. Dtr., Camille Bennett

Dred and Harriet Scott held up a mirror to the nation and forced us to reflect on why the principles in our nation’s founding documents were not yet accessible to everyone. Their story is an inspiring example of how the pursuit of justice is an unending task. There is no more appropriate place for a visual symbol of this fight for justice than in front of the courthouse where African Americans were for so long denied justice.

David Walton, peacemaker singing “We’re All in This”

Abraham Lincoln cited the Dred Scott case extensively in his famous “House Divided Speech.” In this speech, Lincoln set the course for America to live up to its founding rhetoric of equality:

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

The Dred Scott decision—through its gross injustice and denial of citizenship—propelled our nation towards justice. Abolitionist fervor was exacerbated by the case; presidential candidates addressed it; congressmen were embarrassed by it.

Though he was born a slave, Dred Scott fought for freedom. He fought for freedom for his wife and daughters. The story of the Scotts will serve as inspiration for all of our children and grandchildren—the struggle for justice is never-ending. We must never be afraid to advocate for our rights, to pursue our freedom, and to seek justice. A monument to the Scotts is a beautiful way to acknowledge this struggle and to remind all of us—black and white—that justice and equality are the paramount values of our free society.

Que Simpson, PSS Founder, Camille Bennett, and others dancing

Tia Crenshaw in front of the standing monument.

Art Director for project and Board member, Christi Britten

The CORE Drummers, Charleen Carter, Vicki Goldston, Deborah Carter Guest, Shonna Beckwith, Caroline Ricks, Elder, Dorothy Carter, Que Simpson dancing



-Brian Murphy
Brian Murphy works as a historian for the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area and the City of Florence Museums. His research interests include African American history, the history of urban renewal and public housing, and Civil War memory.