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Scott, Taney descendants say their reconciliation shows the way

taney-hug

‘If the Taneys and the Scotts can be reconciled, can’t anybody else?’ said Lynne Jackson, a descendant of Dred Scott, hugging Charlie Taney, a descendant of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, at the Maryland State House Monday. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Lynne Jackson and Charlie Taney stood in front of the statue of Roger Brooke Taney and called for change.

The descendants of Scott, a slave, and Taney, then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who authored a decision that declared slaves were property and not human, didn’t call for a removal of the controversial jurist. Instead, they called for changes to the State House grounds and the addition of statues of Dred Scott and Frederick Douglass as part of an educational process and a continuing conversation on race in the United States.

“If you know someone you can get to understand them and come to like them and come to love them, but you will not know them if you do not engage them, said Jackson, the great-great granddaughter of Scott. “We need to begin to have meaningful relationships.”

Jackson and Taney, the great-great-great nephew of the chief justice, met about a year ago after Taney’s daughter, Kate Taney Billingsley, wrote a one-act play centering on a fictional meeting in a diner on the New Jersey Turnpike between a member of the Taney family and a member of the Scott family.

“It’s really become a wonderful relationship between our two families,” said Taney. “We share a sorry past, but we have hope for a bright future.”

Jackson, who is executive director of the Dred Scott Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, said she had been interested in meeting the Taney family for nearly a decade when Billingsley tracked her down and asked if she’d be interested in participating in a post-performance discussion along with her father.

In Annapolis, the two participated in a reconciliation ceremony in front of the Taney statue. Instead of calling for its removal, the pair urged the addition of statues of Dred Scott and Frederick Douglass.

Jackson said the reconciliation can have meaning for the national conversation on race.

“If the Taneys and the Scotts can be reconciled, can’t anybody else?” said Jackson.

As part of the proposal, the Taney statue would be repositioned to make it appear in conversation with the new monuments along with educational displays.

A group called Friends of Frederick Douglass + Roger B. Taney Monument is hoping to raise the money needed for the statues as well as moving the Taney monument by 2018, which coincides with the bicentennial anniversary of Douglass’ birthday. Additionally, the group would need the approval of the Maryland Historical Trust, which oversees the statue.

There have been calls over the last decade to remove the Taney statue from the front lawn of the State House.

Last year, a bill was again introduced into the General Assembly calling for its removal. Former Del. Jolene Ivey, D-Prince George’s, once called for its removal and referred to the 83,000-pound bronze and granite monument as “a turd in front of Maryland’s State House.

And while there is no such effort in Annapolis this year, the city of Frederick is planning on removing its Taney statue.

At the State House, efforts are focused this year on funding for two statues — one each of Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglass — that would be placed inside the State House. The effort has the support of House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., both Democrats, and Gov. Larry Hogan.

Ivey, now a former legislator, said she would not support a plan that involved keeping the Taney statue in place.

“I don’t see why we think it is so important to honor this man,” Ivey said. “If we agree to keep the statue in order to get a Dred Scott or Frederick Douglass statue then we lose momentum to get rid of it and that time is going to come. Eventually the men who are intent on keeping it will grow old and die and in 10 years or 20 years people will look at it and wonder why we have it.”


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