Stepping Stones

The topic for this issue is “Harmony.”  Sometimes the discord is so blaring, we cannot hear, much less, feel harmonious.  Confederate monuments herald “heroes” of a war fought on the economic foundation of enslaving African Americans.  Many states have elected to remove them from settings where they are a painful reminder of atrocities suffered by slaves.  Alabama passed a bill that would stop any removal of these monuments.  One such monument sits in front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse in Florence, AL.

Confederate soldier monument

Project Say Something (PSS) is an equal justice advocacy group in Florence.  PSS has enlisted community effort for a project, Not Tearing Down History, But Building Up Hope.  This project proposed a monument of Dred and Harriett Scott that would sit adjacent to the courthouse Confederate monument.  The Scott monument would add truthful context to the abhorrence of the Confederacy.  It is an effort to heal the wounds of daily viewing the statue that stands for enslavement – the statue that sits in front of a Federal building.

The Scott monument represents the dismantlement of slavery and the fight for freedom and equality.  It would elicit strength and hope and remind us of the work we must continue to do, as a community. Lauderdale County Commission, must give permission to erect the new monument. This is a glimpse of the history of the Scotts and the community panel’s first encounter with the  Commission– Victorine


Why Dred and Harriet Scott?

Dred and Harriet Scott’s quest for freedom forced Americans to ask, “Who is
an American?”
Born enslaved in Virginia around the turn of the 18th century, Scott moved
to Alabama in 1819 with his owner Peter Blow. He lived in Florence for ten
years, working at Blow’s tavern before moving again with the Blow family to
St. Louis. Scott was then sold to Dr. John Emerson, an army surgeon who
moved to Illinois, a free state. Emerson was transferred to Ft. Snelling in
the Northwest Territory in 1836. The following year, Dred married Harriet
Robinson. The couple had several children, who were likely the catalyst for the
Scotts pursual of freedom.

In 1846, Dred requested his freedom from Dr. Emerson’s widow. Emerson
refused so the Scotts sued for freedom in court. The freedom suit was
financed in part by the Blow family, and in January of 1850, the court
ruled that Dred Scott was a free man. The widow Emerson moved to
Massachusetts in 1850 but refused to give up the fight over the Scotts’
freedom. She appealed the decision and in 1852 the Missouri Supreme Court
reversed its ruling. But the Scotts kept fighting. They appealed to the
Supreme Court in 1856 while the national debate over the future of slavery
in America was growing louder. In March of 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney
handed down what has been considered the worst ruling in Supreme Court
history, revoking the citizenship rights of all African Americans and
reversing the Missouri Compromise.

The case angered abolitionists, who saw the decision as a usurpation of the
Court’s authority. Calvin Chaffee, who had married the widow Emerson and
thus owned Dred Scott, was embarrassed by the decision and quickly sold
Dred to Henry Blow, son of Dred’s former owner. Blow freed the Scotts in
May of 1857.

The Scotts gained their freedom by fighting for it. While the southern
states attempted to cling to slavery, abolitionists were horrified by the
Dred Scott decision. They were galvanized to continue to fight against the
spread of slavery, a fight that came just four years after the ruling.
The Scotts are heroes. They fought for their freedom. They gained their
freedom. They were re-enslaved. They fought some more. They gained their
freedom by shedding a bright light on the desperation of southern
aristocracy to maintain their system of human bondage.

-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.

 

 

PSS and the Community Panel:  The first encounter with Lauderdale County Commission