Week of March 5 to March 11
1857 â€“ Perhaps the most thoroughly racist decision ever rendered by a United States Supreme Court is released on this day in 1857 â€“ Dred Scott v. Sanford. Scott and his wife Harriet had sued in St. Louis Circuit Court claiming they were free because their slave master had taken them from a slave state to the free territory of Missouri. However, in a majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (a strong supporter of slavery) the Court ruled:
1) Blacks, be they slave or free, were not and could not be U.S. citizens and thus were not entitled to file suit in U.S. courts,
2) Denied Congress the power to restrict slavery by declaring the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional,
3) Declared that where the Constitution said â€œAll men are created equal,â€ the phrase did not include Blacks, and
4) Told African Americans that they â€œhad no rights the White man was bound to respect.â€
However, reflecting the law of unintended consequences, the Dred Scott decision was so harsh and so angered anti-slavery forces that it helped pave the way for the Civil War which ended all slavery in America.
1965 â€“ On this day in Black history, the first leg of the Selma-to-Montgomery march is completed as thousands joined Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in protesting racial injustice in Alabama. An earlier attempt to complete the march had been disrupted by a police attack. The Alabama National Guard was federalized and U.S. Army troops were called in to protect the marchers. It was shortly after this march that a White female supporter of the civil rights struggle, Viola Liuzzo , was shot and killed by Ku Klux Klanâ€“style terrorists opposed to civil rights for Blacks.
1841 â€“ The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Joseph Cinque and his fellow mutineers are free men. Along with several of his Mendi tribesmen, Cinque, son of an African king, had been captured and sold into slavery. But in 1839, he led a revolt on the Spanish slave ship Amistad, killed the captain and seized control of the ship. However, a U.S. military ship seized the Amistad off the coast of Long Island, N.Y. The seizure led to protracted court battles in which Cinque and his men were charged with murder. But in an unusual ruling for its day, the high court held, in effect, that the men had a human right to try to escape bondage and allowed them to return to Africa.
1913 â€“ The â€œgreatest conductor of the Underground Railroadâ€ Harriet Tubman dies on this day in Auburn, N.Y. Born in slavery in Dorchester County, Md. in 1819 or 1820, Harriet was raised in harsh conditions including being whipped as a small child. As a child she was a person of strong will and principle. Around age 30, fearing she was about to be sold into the Deep South, Tubman escaped to Canada, but returned to Maryland on numerous occasions helping family members and over 300 other slaves escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad. She frequently threatened to shoot any slave who became frightened and wanted to turn back.
1959 â€“ Lorraine Hansberryâ€™s play, â€œA Raisin in the Sun,â€ opens on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre with Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil in the starring roles. With 530 performances, the play became the longest running African American written play in Broadway history. It was also the first Broadway hit written by an African American woman. It became a movie in 1961. Hansberryâ€™s promising career was cut short by cancer in 1965. She was only 34.