December 3, 2020

Webster law professors discuss the Dred Scott decision

In honor of Black History Month, the legal studies department at Webster University held their first event of the year called: A Brown Bag Presentation, Dred Scott and Beyond: The St. Louis Impact on Legal History. The Brown Bag presentation shared information and discussed Dred Scott’s case.

Professors Robin Higgins and Anne Geraghty-Rathert hosted the event from noon to 1 p.m. on Feb. 16 in the Emerson Library Conference Room.

Higgins said the legal studies department held the event to show that St. Louis had a big impact on black history.

“Many people are not aware of the great history here in St. Louis,” Higgins said. “Many people don’t know that Missouri was a slave state.”

Geraghty-Rathert lectured on how many African-Americans slaves in Missouri could have receivde their freedom if they had taken their cases from Missouri courts to the Supreme Court.

The Winny v. Whitesides case occurred in 1824, before the famous Dred Scott case. A 13-year-old slave named Winny sued her owners, the Whitesides, and won her freedom.

“Over 300 slaves fought for their freedom. Many won and a few didn’t,” Geraghty-Rathert said. “But many took a great risk at doing it.”

A slave received their freedom if:

— the slave had Native American blood (a parent or ancestor that was Native American),

— the slave was born free or set free by a former owner or master, or

— if the slave lived in a free state

 “Missouri become known as a free black community, where many African-Americans started to fight for their freedom,” Geraghty-Rathert said.

 Geraghty-Rathert also discussed the Dred Scott case and Scott’s will to be a free man.

Dred Scott was an African-American slave who unsuccessfully sued his owners for his freedom as well as the freedom of his wife and two daughters in 1857. The case, Dred Scott v. Sanford, went to the Supreme Court and became known as the Dred Scott decision. Three months after the Supreme Court ruling, Missouri Senate member Henry Taylor Blow granted the Scotts their freedom.

“After the Dred Scott case, this was truly the beginning of segregation for African-Americans in the south. With the Dred Scott case, this was the real reason for the Jim Crow law being created,” Higgins said.

John Davis, junior psychology major, said he learned from the presentation.

“I learned a lot of black historical facts about St. Louis I didn’t know (before). And it gave me a deeper look at the Dred Scott case,” Davis said.

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