Descendants of racist Supreme Court decision to visit Richmond, speak on reconciliation

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A photograph of a New York-area newspaper from June 27, 1857, discussing a meeting with Dred Scott. (VCU CNS)

RICHMOND, Va. – In a city with a history of racism, descendants of Dred Scott and the judge who denied him his unalienable rights will come together in hopes of reconciliation.

Scott was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 decision that “persons of African descent, whether slave or free, could not be American citizens.” The ruling stripped  African-Americans of their right to petition for their freedom under any circumstance and was a factor that prompted the Civil War.

Lynne Scott Jackson, the great-great-granddaughter of Dred Scott, will come to Richmond April 3 to meet with Virginia leaders and walk a portion of the Richmond slave trail. She also will share her story of meeting Charles Taney, the great-great-grand-nephew of Roger Taney, the Supreme Court chief justice who ruled that her ancestor could never be a citizen due to his race.

Jackson’s upcoming visit was announced on the 162nd anniversary of the decision by Virginians for Reconciliation, a citizen group that seeks to heal racial wounds.

The organization said Jackson and Taney might appear together “to discuss their powerful experience of healing and reconciliation and a pathway forward for Virginia and the country.” Details will be announced later, the group said.

“We have seen the remarkable power of forgiveness time and time again, as people are given permission to face truth and reality honestly in a safe context,” Jackson told Virginians for Reconciliation over the phone at their quarterly meeting, according to a press release issued by the organization.

“Many obstacles and barriers fall quickly when we are able to communicate what has taken place between those whose families were once locked in bitter opposition on their fundamental right.”

Former Gov. Robert McDonnell is a member of the organization and spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We are honored to have descendants of a courageous Virginian, Dred Scott, and Chief Justice Roger Taney coming to Virginia next month,” McDonnell said. “Separated by 162 years of history, these descendants have forged the path of truth-telling, forgiveness and redemption to serve as a shining example for Virginia’s road to racial reconciliation in 2019.”

Gov. Ralph Northam is also a member of Virginians for Reconciliation. He attended this week’s meeting as well as the group’s debut press conference in January. The two officials were joined by community leaders of religious, business, educational and other diverse backgrounds.

Racial reconciliation has taken on an special importance for Northam after the discovery of a racist picture in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Northam said he was not in the photo but acknowledged that he once wore blackface that year for a Michael Jackson dance contest.

For full coverage on Gov. Northam’s yearbook photo controversy, click here.

The controversy led many politicians and groups to call on Northam to resign. Northam has said he will stay in office and will use his term to promote a discussion about racial healing.

Virginians for Reconciliation said in the press release that the organization hopes to adopt a “wide-ranging, creative agenda designed to build trusting relationships and confront age-old biases and practices that have plagued the Commonwealth far too long.”