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Dred Scott’s Great-Great-Granddaughter Wants To Make His Grave ‘A Place Worthy Of Pilgrimage’

Lynne Jackson sometimes struggles to find her great-great-grandfather’s grave. Located in north St. Louis’ sprawling and historic Calvary Cemetery, the headstone is just two and a half feet high. A cemetery map helps, and on it, his grave is indicated in the key, with the number 19 beside his name: Dred Scott.

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Lynne Jackson
Dred Scott’s remains were initially buried in an unmarked grave near St. Louis University. In 1867 they were moved to a different unmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery, where the current headstone was finally added in 1958.

It’s a modest memorial, and it’s also “the most asked-for grave out there,” said Jackson, who last week launched a fundraiser in hopes of creating a nine-foot-tall educational memorial at the spot.

“It’s wonderful to have a memorial at all, but I think we can do better,” Jackson said. She envisions “a place worthy of pilgrimage for students and lovers of American history,” as her Dred Scott Heritage Foundation GoFundMe campaign puts it.

Scott, an enslaved African American who unsuccessfully sued for his and his family’s freedom in the Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court case of 1857, has had a dramatic effect on that history.

Though he died from tuberculosis only a year and a half after the court’s 7-2 decision against him, the injustice of the argument that Scott was not a citizen of the U.S. and therefore had no right to bring a lawsuit led to public outcry — and hastened the Civil War.

Jackson, who first remembers being aware of her great-great-grandfather’s legacy as a young child, joined Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.

She’s the founder and president of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, and she talked with host Sarah Fenske about her hopes to raise not just funds but also awareness and understanding of the important history behind the effort.

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Lynne Jackson
Lynne Jackson is the founder and president of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation. She is also a great-great-granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott.

Jackson said she remembers a time not so long ago when there was no marker whatsoever at Scott’s grave.

“I was actually there [in Calvary Cemetery] as a very, very young girl when it was pointed out to my mom and dad that ‘this is where your ancestor was buried by a Jesuit priest,’” she said.

Scott’s remains were originally buried in a different unmarked grave near St. Louis University before one of the children of his original owners moved the remains to Calvary in 1867. Three plots were purchased at Calvary, Jackson said, because at that time “a Black person couldn’t be buried next to a white person, and [a] slave could be buried there only if their owners wanted them to.”

Now, that extra space around Scott’s grave may prove helpful as plans and funds for a more fitting memorial begin to come together.

“We are planning to have a beautiful monument there, and I’m very excited about how it’s going to look,” Jackson said.

Along with a nine-foot black granite piece, the hopes for the site include column ornamentation, lots of space for etching and detailing history, and a patio with benches “where people can literally come and sit for a moment and meditate and understand who this man was.”

Listeners and readers: Across America, many memorials are coming down — especially those lionizing Confederate leaders. In an age when many are calling for different memorials and different heroes, does Lynne Jackson’s push for a more fitting Dred Scott memorial resonate with you?

Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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