One-hundred and sixty years ago, infamous Marylander and then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney issued a ruling that Dred Scott, a Missouri slave who escaped his owners, was not a citizen. The decision furthered the detestable tradition of slavery for several more years before Abraham Lincoln abolished it. Yesterday, Scott’s and Taney’s descendants stood together in front of the Maryland State House in Annapolis to make amends.
The gathering coincided with the 160th anniversary of the infamous Dred Scott decision. That ruling, which also barred Congress from being to abolish slavery at the time, has permanently tarnished Taney’s legacy. In recent years, civil rights advocates to call for removals of his statues across the state.
Charles Taney IV, the Supreme Court justice’s great-great-great nephew, and Lynne Jackson, Dred Scott’s great-great granddaughter, told the Frederick News-Post they valued the bond between their families, despite the circumstances. “We share a sorry past, but we have hope for a bright future,” Charles Taney told the newspaper. He also issued an apology to Scott’s family and “all African-Americans for the injury caused by Roger Brooke Taney and this decision.”
According to The Washington Post, Jackson accepted the apology and the two hugged it out.
This wasn’t the first time they’ve met. Taney’s daughter, Kate Taney Billingsley, produced a play called “A Man of His Time” in New York last year about this exact exchange between the two families. The one-act production was fictional art imitating life, as it brought descendants from the two families together in person.
A bill to remove Taney’s statue in Annapolis and store it instead in the Maryland State Archives died in committee last year. Frederick, where the original Taney lived and practiced law before he became a Supreme Court Justice, already voted to relocate its own bust of him from a government building to a graveyard last year. Baltimore preservationists also moved last year to remove his statue from Mount Vernon.
Some have called for statues of Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass to replace Taney’s head in Annapolis. But looking ahead, both Scott’s and Taney’s descendants would like to add an additional statue of Scott alongside Taney, rather than remove the latter altogether. The Sun reports they both support doing so because it would provide appropriate context for the decision and its aftermath.
“The Scotts and the Taneys believe that Americans should learn from their history, not bury their history,” the families said in a joint statement.
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