Dredd Scott, Wikipedia, and things I didn't know

Thanks to the “this day in history” feature on Wikipedia, I’ve now finally gone and really looked into the Dredd Scott decision. Apparently, I’ve been mistaken about this for my whole life. Basically, I had always understood that the decision said that (quoting Wikipedia’s description) “Dred Scott was not free, because Missouri law alone applied after he returned there.”

However, as much as I have heard about the decision, I had never known that the Court also held that (again quoting Wikipedia):[ul]
[li]“No Negroes, not even free Negroes, could ever become citizens of the United States. They were ‘beings of an inferior order’ not included in the phrase ‘all men’ in the Declaration of Independence nor afforded any rights by the Constitution.”[/li][li]The exclusion of slavery from a U.S. territory in the Missouri Compromise was an unconstitutional deprivation of property (Negro slaves) without due process prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[/li][/ul]Well, I guess that the second of those points was partially within my understanding, but within the last couple of hours was really the first I’d heard that the decision went as far as the first bullet above says.

There’s really no point to this other than for me to reflect on discovering important gaps in my understanding of things I had thought I had a pretty good understanding of.

It does put the current use of the phrase “activist judges” in perspective, doesn’t it?

I have spent a lot of time in the old courthouse in St. Louis, running tour groups through the Dred Scot morbid history tourist experience. Even with all the looking at courtrooms and cells and such, the part of the tour that always got to me was standing on the front steps, outside, looking toward the river and the arch (obviously a later addition to the vista) and knowing that I was standing where the slave auctions were held. I can’t recall now if any auctions were held on the steps while the case was being decided inside, but it is strange to touch railings and stones that “witnessed” events so foreign to Now.

My husband teaches sociology at our local branch campus. The subject always includes a section on race in America. After attending several semesters of his classes out of curiosity, I got to thinking about students like the OP-- people who have always heard of these issues, but it was never truly brought home to them, so I put together a PowerPoint presentation for them.

I included in it, text from the Dredd Scott case, quotes from Lincoln (who everyone seems to believe was a champion of black rights) images from old Bugs Bunny cartoons, photos of lynchings (not so they could see the victims, per se, but so they could see the hundreds of grinning participants lined up to take a photo to commemorate the event) racially offensive toys, and the story of Ota Benga, the African man who was kept in the Bronx Zoo in the early 1900s. I’ve had many students say to me that they knew it was bad, but they didn’t know it was THAT bad.