Social Justice Activists | Dred Scott


Dred Scott photoDred Scott was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia in 1795. Shortly after Scott was married, his owner, John Emerson, moved around to a few different states where slavery was prohibited. In 1846, when his owner died, Scott tried to buy his and his wife’s freedom from Emerson’s widow, however, she refused.

Scott then made history by launching a legal battle to gain freedom for him and his wife.  The fact that Scott lived in multiple free states with his owner became the basis for his case.

In 1846, Scott lost in his initial suit in a local St. Louis, Missouri district court. However, he then won in a second trial, only to have that decision overturned by the Missouri State Supreme Court.

In 1854, Scott gained support from local abolitionists and filed another suit in federal court in 1854, against John Sandford, the executor of his former owner’s estate. When this case was decided in favor of Sandford, Scott had no choice but to turn to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford was issued. Seven of the nine judges agreed with the outcome delivered by Chief Justice Roger Taney, who announced that slaves were not citizens of the United States and therefore had no rights to sue in Federal courts.

Because of the controversy surrounding the case, Mrs. Emerson returned Dred Scott and his wife to their previous owners, who granted them their freedom in May 1857. Dred Scott found work as a porter in a local hotel, and passed away only a little over a year after he was granted his freedom on September 17, 1858.


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