A campaign by the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation is seeking funds to build a memorial to Dred Scott at his gravesite in Calvary Cemetery.
Catholic Cemeteries of St. Louis approved a new, more prominent monument after consultation with Lynne Jackson, a great-great-granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott and founder of the foundation.
For more than a decade Dred and Harriet Scott, with the help of friends and supporters, fought for freedom from slavery and to change established law. The U.S. Supreme Court decision on March 6, 1857, claimed that Dred Scott was not a citizen of the United States and therefore had no right to bring suit in the federal courts, which caused a public outcry throughout the country.
On Sept. 17, 1858, about 18 months after the decision, Dred Scott died of tuberculosis and was buried in an unmarked grave in St. Louis at the old Wesleyan Cemetery at Grand and Laclede avenues. He had been given his freedom two months after the court decision. When it was anticipated the cemetery would close, Taylor Blow, a member of the family who previously owned Scott, moved the body to Calvary Cemetery to another unmarked grave. The Blow family had supported the Scotts’ efforts in the courts.
Jesuit Father Edward Dowling rediscovered Scott’s gravesite in time for the centennial of the Dred Scott case in 1957 and encouraged efforts to mark the grave. On March 6, 1957, Scott’s descendants and Father Dowling joined the president of Saint Louis University Law School Student Bar Association to lay a wreath on the still-unmarked grave.
A descendant of the Blow family purchased a modest two-and-a-half-foot engraved headstone, dedicated on Sept. 17, 1957.
The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation works to inform future generations about the lengths that enslaved African American men and women went to in their fight for freedom and just law. Joyce Jones, program director of the archdiocese’s Office of Racial Harmony, praised the efforts to build an educational site in memoriam of Dred Scott at his gravesite.
“Education is key to developing an understanding of the history of racism in this country and how upholding the human dignity of all persons has not always been the norm,” Jones said. “Guided by the basic teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our Catholic social teachings, and being exposed to the truth about the sin of racism we will be better able to acknowledge and denounce racism when we see it or hear of it. I stand with all my brothers and sisters in an effort to abolish the sin of racism. Eradication of racism is not a Catholic issue, it is a human issue.”
The foundation is holding a GoFundMe
campaign and soliciting other donations to honor Dred Scott with a memorial that will contain biographical and historical information and make it a place of pilgrimage for students and others. Plans are for a 9-foot-tall, black-granite monument facing the cemetery road.
Jackson, Scott’s great-great-granddaughter, said a bigger monument that’s easier to find — it’s one of three most asked-for site in the cemetery — would better share the story of Dred Scott and why he and his case were important.
The fundraising campaign began Sept. 17, the anniversary of Dred Scott’s death, which also is Constitution Day. Jackson involved people from all sectors of the community in raising funds for a statue of Dred Scott at the Old Courthouse Downtown dedicated in 2012. A number of Catholics were involved in the efforts, including students from Catholic schools. She received a warm welcome at the schools and at St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Parish, where some of her cousins are parishioners.
If funds are raised by Dec. 15, the foundation plans on having the monument ready for dedication on Juneteenth (June 19) 2021. Juneteenth commemorates the day slavery ended in the United States when Texas was notified of the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years after it was enacted in 1863.