Lynne M. Jackson winced outside the Maryland State House on Monday as she listened to Charlie Taney repeat some of the words his great-great-grand-uncle wrote in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision 160 years ago.
Black people cannot be U.S. citizens and have no rights except the ones that white people give them. Whites are superior to blacks. Slavery is legal.
“You can’t hide from the words that [Roger Brooke] Taney wrote,” Charlie Taney said, standing a few feet from a statue of his ancestor, who lived in Maryland and was chief justice of the nation’s highest court from 1836 until his death in 1864.
“You can’t run, you can’t hide, you can’t look away. You have to face them.”
Then Charlie Taney turned to Jackson, the great-great granddaughter of Scott, an enslaved man who sued for his freedom. 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.”
Jackson accepted the apology from her family and “all African Americans who have the love of God in their heart so that healing can begin.”
Taney asked for a hug, and the two embraced.
They met for the first time last year in New York. Their appearance Monday in Annapolis was part of an ongoing reconciliation process, and a push by the descendants of both families to add a statue of Scott near the statue of Taney, which activists have sought to remove for years.
“We should use this as a chance to learn and a chance to come together and chance to heal a nation — not bury the past,” Charlie Taney said.
Jackson, a former law firm manager from Missouri and the founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, said her family also believes that having the statue of the pro-slavery chief justice, along with one of Scott and historical information about the court decision, would be a “learning experience and an educational opportunity.”
“Add to it, don’t take from it,” Jackson said.
The debate over Taney’s statue intensified in Annapolis after the 2015 killing of nine African Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church by a white man who displayed a segregationist flag on social media and drove a car with a Confederate flag license plate.
That rampage led then-South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (R) to stop flying the Confederate flag on the state capitol’s grounds. It also sparked a national dialogue about whether to remove from other public spaces the names and statues of historical figures who, for many, represent a heritage of slavery and racism.
Last week, Montgomery County announced that it will move a bronze statue of a Confederate general from its courthouse grounds to the docking site of a Potomac River ferry. And two years ago, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents voted to remove Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd’s name from the stadium of the system’s flagship university in College Park. Byrd, a former president of the school, was a segregationist who fought against black students attending the university.
A proposal in the Maryland legislature to remove the Taney statue died in committee last year, however. There is no similar bill this year, and some of the activists who in the past have called for the statue’s removal now appear to agree with the Taney and Scott descendants that placing the statue in a more complete historical context would be preferable.
“Instead of removing the controversial figure, consider adding to the historical education by recognizing those who stood on the opposite side promoting progress,” said Colin Byrd, a student at the University of Maryland who lobbied to change the stadium name and also for removing the Taney statue.
He said he would like to see statues of Harriet Tubman, Scott and Frederick Douglass on the Statehouse grounds. The state is considering plans to erect statutes of Tubman and Douglass, African American abolitionists who lived in Maryland, inside the State House, not outside.
Taney, an advertising executive who lives in Connecticut, called his great-great-grand-uncle a “complicated man,” but also a “stone racist.”
It was Charles Taney’s daughter, Kate Billingsley, who wrote “A Man of His Time,” a one-act fictional play about a Taney descendant meeting a Scott descendant. The play, produced in New York last year, brought real descendants of each family together for the first time.
“A Taney bringing an apology to a Scott is like ‘bringing a bandaid to an amputation,’ ” Charlie Taney quoted his daughter as saying on Monday.
“An apology is not enough,” he said. “But it is necessary.”