Freedom Fighters Spotlight: Dred Scott

The Civil Rights Movement required throngs of people who were brave enough to demand change. It couldn’t just be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Thousands of people throughout the country, and even the world, took part in fighting for freedom.

Dred Scott was born into slavery sometime around 1799. He lived and worked on a farm in Virginia. People held as slaves were thought of as property and would be bought, sold or traded like any other farm equipment or livestock. Along with 6 other people held as slaves, Scott moved to Alabama. The farm he worked on wasn’t successful so he was sold to help absolve debts.

Scott was sold to a doctor named John Emerson. Dr. Emerson was an officer in the U.S. Army and as such, he had to move from post to post frequently. At one point, they moved to Illinois and that state was considered a free state. While there, Scott met another woman held as a slave. Her name was Harriet. They married soon after and Harriet’s owner transferred her to Emerson. Scott and his wife had children and were often leased out to other people while Dr. Emerson was away on military business.

After Dr. Emerson died, Scott tried to buy his freedom from Eliza Irene Sanford, Dr. Emerson’s widowed wife. Citing the Missouri Compromise, Scott sued for the freedom of himself and his family. Since Dr. Emerson was leasing out the people he held as slaves in a free state, he was in violation of the Missouri Compromise.

The case of Dred Scott v. Sanford was the first of its kind. He received a lot of support by abolitionist. The case made national news because up until that point, no one had ever tried to gain their freedom by way of the courts. The case wasn’t successful, but it set off many more cases like it. Soon courts were forced to take a better look at what kind of rights people had under the U.S. Constitution.

Dred Scott’s bravery to put himself on the front page of newspapers all over the country was bold and new. His actions would set the Civil Rights Movement into motion.