160 Years After Roger Taney Said Black People Had No Rights, His Family Offers an Apology — and Partnership

The Dred Scott decision held that African-Americans had no rights, and could not sue for their freedom

A family member of the chief justice who presided over the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision has apologized to the family of the slave who tried to sue for his freedom.

On Monday, the 160-year anniversary of the decision, Charles Taney IV of Greenwich, Connecticut, stood a few feet from a statue of his great-great-grand-uncle Roger Brooke Taney outside the Maryland State House and apologized for the decision, in which Roger Taney wrote that African-Americans could not have rights of their own and were inferior to white people.

Roger Taney lived in Maryland. There's a statue of him in Frederick's City Hall; an alderman has called for it to be removed.

"You can't hide from the words that Taney wrote," Taney said. "You can't run, you can't hide, you can't look away. You have to face them."

He apologized on behalf of his family, to the Scott family and to all African-Americans, for the "terrible injustice of the Dred Scott decision."

Lynne Jackson of St. Louis, the great-great-granddaughter of Dred Scott, accepted the apology for her family and "all African-Americans who have the love of God in their heart so that healing can begin." She hopes the apology can lead to a greater reconciliation.

"It's an open door for us to say the Scotts and the Taneys can reconcile," Jackson said. "If you look at relationships in our nation, these are supposed to be the two who are really supposed to hate each other. But it's not about hatred; it's about understanding, and then relationship-building and trust."

Jackson said she had looked forward to a meeting of the two families ever since she created The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation a decade ago. She and Taney met for the first time last year, brought together by the production of a one-act fictional play written by Charles Taney's daughter, Kate Billingsley. "A Man of His Time," tells the story of a Taney descendant meeting a Scott descendant.

Taney and Jackson were invited to participate in a talk-back session with the audience after the performance. They have since begun working together, with Taney, a consultant for nonprofit organizations, helping Jackson's group develop a strategic mission.

"A Taney bringing an apology to a Scott is like 'bringing a Band-Aid to an amputation,'" Taney quoted his daughter as saying.

"An apology is not enough," he said. "But it is necessary."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us