New Place Sought for Dred Scott Author's Statue

By Judson Berger
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

A group of Prince George's County activists is calling for the removal of the Annapolis statue that depicts the Maryland-born Supreme Court justice who wrote the infamous 1857 court ruling that upheld slavery.

The statue portrays Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, the Calvert County native best known as author of the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, which said African Americans were not citizens. Taney's towering bronze likeness sits outside the State House -- close to a memorial for civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice.

The social justice group Progressive Cheverly says the Taney statue must go. In e-mails sent to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), the group suggested that Taney's statue be moved to a place where it can be explained and put in context, such as in a museum.

Dred Scott"is universally recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, Supreme Court decision that's ever been rendered," said group member John Rebstock, 47, an elementary school teacher in Montgomery County.

The statue needs to be replaced with a more "unifying figure," Rebstock said.

Now is the time to act, he said, since the General Assembly earlier this year adopted a resolution expressing regret for the state's role in slavery.

"There is a timeliness about both these things coming about," said Progressive Cheverly member Terrence Doyle, 59, who teaches communication at Northern Virginia Community College.

So far, there's been no response from Busch or O'Malley.

But some think that historical balance has been struck already.

Elaine Rice Bachmann, curator of the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property, which oversees the state's art collection, said Marshall's statue was deliberately placed across from Taney's in 1996 to provide a historical balance.

"There's no hiding it. I think it's history, warts and all," Bachmann said. She said there have been occasional complaints about the statue from visitors and legislators, but no formal drive to remove it until now.

Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George's) is the only official who has taken up the quest.

"I'm still looking into how best to do it," Ivey said. "I think a basement in some dark corner would be an appropriate place . . . but to have it right in front of the [State House] is too much for me."

The statue, sculpted by William Henry Rinehart, was dedicated in 1872, several years after Taney's death.

Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's), author of the state's apology for slavery, hasn't signed on to the campaign but said he'd consider it.

"As a proponent of history, I think that we do need to have some of our history around, so it can remind us and teach us that there are some things that we just ought not to do," Exum said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company