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Historic apology: Taney family apologizes to descendants of a slave who sued for freedom

Posted at 5:47 PM, Mar 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-06 17:47:13-05

A historic apology at the Maryland State House on Monday to the family of a slave who sued for his freedom. It happened in front of the statue of the Chief Justice who presided over the Supreme Court 160 years ago.

Roger Brooke Taney was attorney general of the United States and Chief Justice.

"He was racist, he did believe black people were inferior to white people," said Charlie Taney, the great-great-great nephew of Roger Taney. "So if he were to wake up right now, I'm sure he'd say, what the hell is going on? I'm sure he wouldn't be happy about this."

Monday was a day of reconciliation. A day when two families, bound by the weight of American history, met on the grounds of the Maryland State House. It was a day that marked the 160th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision by Taney's Supreme Court.

"There was really mixed views in my family about it," said Kate Taney Billingsley, a descendant of Roger Taney. "A lot of people, it was like, they were proud of the name because it was a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for other rulings he had made that was not the Dred Scott decision, and yet everybody agreed that it was a complete smear on our name and it was a terrible, terrible decision."

Some decisions last a lifetime; this one will last forever.

Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom. The court's decision was that slaves were not citizens and therefore had no rights in American courts. It continued slavery into the Western expansion beyond Missouri.

The ruling happened March 6, 1857. Taney's family apologized to the Scotts on March 6, 2017.

"There's something about seeing the Scotts and the Taneys standing side by side working together on reconciliation," Charlie Taney said. "That strikes a real chord with people."

"It's an open door for us to say if the Scotts and the Taneys can reconcile, can't you?" said Lynne Jackson, the great-great grand-daughter of Dred Scott.

Jackson runs the Dred Scott foundation in St. Louis. She's hoping the apology can lead to a much greater reconciliation.

"If you look at relationships in our nation, these are supposed to be the two who are really supposed to hate each other," Jackson said. "But it's not about hatred, it's about understanding, and then relationship building and trust."

There have been discussions to remove the Roger Brooke statue from the capitol grounds, but the two families don't want the statue taken down.

They are asking for statues of Dred Scott and Frederick Douglas to stand with the Roger Brooke Taney statue. The families believe we should learn from our history, not bury it.