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I began by telling them that Scott was born a slave, in Virginia in 1799 and that he

was owned by Peter Blow, a plantation owner. Scott was never given a chance

 to learn to read and write remaining illiterate his whole life

 

 

Teaching Dred Scott to City College

Students on Public Transportation

By Amin Sharif

 

That I do not own a car is a conscious, not a financial decision. I take public transportation. Rather than a hardship it provides numerous worthwhile opportunities. I like this mode because it keeps me close to the folk and helps me to gage the reactions of people on various issues. Today, while making my commute from work, I happened to remark to some young, black high school students that March was the month that the Dred Scott decision was issued. Now, these weren’t just any high school students. They attend the prestigious City College -- a high school known for producing at least one black Rhodes Scholar and a United States Congressmen.*  So one thus expects the scholars of City College to state with ease the importance of the Dred Scott Case 

At the time the Rhodes Scholar, the United States Congressman, and I attended City, we took American History under the watchful eye of Dr. Samuel Banks. Dr. Banks was a black man loved by all of his students, black, white, brown, and yellow. He was a man of keen intellect and compassion. He, in short, was a rare bird and knew it. He brooked no insult from his white colleagues, many of whom openly despised him. And, he brooked no laxness from his students. I credit Dr. Banks with singlehandedly developing my interest in all things black and African. I say this not only to praise Dr. Banks but to decry the state of affairs that has taken place at my alma mater since both I and Dr. Banks have long ago left City behind. Suffice to say, not a single high school student knew anything about Dred Scott. So, it was left to me to explain the importance of the Dred Scott case to my young friends.

I began by telling them that Scott was born a slave, in Virginia in 1799 and that he was owned by Peter Blow, a plantation owner. Scott was never given a chance to learn to read and write remaining illiterate his whole life. In 1830, the Blow family moved to Missouri which had been admitted into the Union as a slave state in 1820. This occurred due to the Missouri Compromise. I briefly explained to the student about the Compromise and went on with my story. While in Missouri, Peter Blow decided to sell Scott to a Dr. Emerson, a traveling military surgeon. As a consequence, Dred Scott traveled with his new master to the state of Illinois (a state that did not allow slavery), as well as, to the free (from slavery) territory of Wisconsin. But, Dr. Emerson died in 1843 and Scott, his wife Harriet, and their children become the property of Dr. Emerson’s wife.

For three years, Scott and his children were hired out by Ms. Emerson. But in 1846, Dred Scott sued Ms. Emerson for his freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. A year later, the Circuit Court in St. Louis threw out the case but the Court allowed Scott to re-file his case. Scott did this and won his freedom in the second trial. But, Ms. Emerson decided to challenge this decision of the Court and the case ended up before the Supreme Court. This occurred in 1856.

In 1857, the Supreme Court heard the Scott case now brought by Ms. Emerson’s brother who has just recently taken over possession of his sister’s estate. The Supreme Court of the United States soon ruled against Scott and he wound up back in the hands of Ms. Emerson’s brother.  Now, here comes the strange twist of fate. Ms. Emerson had re-married in 1857 and regained Scott from her brother. But, her new husband is AGAINST SLAVERY! He returns Scott and his family to the Blow Family in Virginia (Scott’s original slave masters) and they SETS SCOTT AND HIS FAMILY FREE!! Scott eventually returned to St. Louis, Missouri and there dies of tuberculosis.

“Slavery was a fickle master,” I told my now captive audience of students. “Ms. Emerson fought to hold on to Scott, his wife Harriet, and their two daughters until almost the end. Only the anti-slave sentiments of her husband saved Scott and his family from the chains of slavery. The Supreme Court at that time of Scott’s case was headed by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney who was a slave owner from right here in Maryland. So it was obvious that Scott was not going to get any justice from him.” 

I ended my lesson by, more or less, quoting the Honorable Chief Justice Taney's words that declared: “No black slave could ever be a citizen of the United States of America. Slavery was allowable everywhere in the United States.” The rest of the ride home was, more or less, in silence. I turned to the brother next to me and said, “Sometimes, you got to take things into your own hand.” He just smiled and told me how crazy I was.

*By the way that Congressman I mentioned is the Honorable Elijah Cumming, a very good friend. The Rhodes Scholar was Kurt Schmoke who became mayor of Baltimore. 

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920

By Jackson Lears

Lears describes his book as a “synthetic reinterpretation” of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, an effort to dislodge classics like Richard Hofstadter’s Age of Reform (1955) and Robert Wiebe’s Search for Order, 1877-1920 (1967). It’s an ambitious project; both books, despite legions of critics, have shown remarkable staying power. Fortunately, Lears is well qualified for the task. One of the deans of American cultural history (as well as a professor at Rutgers University), Lears has spent decades writing about turn-of-the-20th-century debates over consumerism, modernity, religion and market capitalism. With Rebirth of a Nation, he expands his vision to include politics, war and the presidency as well.—NYTimes

Lears, full of high purpose, is not a slave to method. He collapses distinctions between public and private, conscious and unconscious, and high, low, and middlebrow culture into a singular, undifferentiated mass of evidence. Everywhere he looks, he sees the signs and symbols of rebirth, which remains a trope rather than a principle of historical selection. Rebirth, renewal, revival, regeneration, and revitalization are used interchangeably, imprecisely. The book’s politics are clear enough. Lears stands with blacks, women, farmers, and artists against the “ruling class,” the “elite,” and “middle and upper-class Americans of all regions.” It is heartening to read a history professor who has not forgotten how to be outraged. And it is always good to see that old bully, Theodore Roosevelt, kicked in the balls.—BookForum

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Debt: The First 5,000 Years

By David Graeber

Before there was money, there was debt. Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.  Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like “guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.   Economist Glenn Loury  /Criminalizing a Race

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 7 March 2012

 

 

 

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Related files: Dred Scott Case   We as Freemen Reviews  Seat of Honor -- Homer Plessy  Dred Scott Case    Emancipation Proclamation  Plessy v Ferguson Court  Plessy v Ferguson Court 

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