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Dred Scott statue is ready for its debut in St. Louis

By Madeline O’Leary, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

ST. LOUIS — America’s only bronze figure of Dred and Harriet Scott rests atop a black granite base outside the Old Courthouse downtown, the scene of their historic court case.

It is blanketed for now, but the statue is scheduled to be unveiled Friday to commemorate the Scotts’ 11-year fight for freedom that began in St. Louis.

“People often hear of Dred Scott but don’t know the impact that he had,” said Lynne Jackson, his great-great-granddaughter and head of the foundation overseeing the project. “This memorial opens the door to learning.”

The project, however, still faces a financial hurdle. The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation hoped to raise $250,000 but fell $100,000 short.

A fundraising drive launched two years ago at 17 M & I Bank locations and various donations from schools, organizations and families brought in $150,000. To cover the rest of the cost, donations will continue to be accepted after the statue is unveiled, said Jackson, president of the foundation.

“I’d never done this before,” she said, “and I understand that the economy isn’t good.”

The statue features Dred and Harriet in a loose embrace, and entwining the figures helped keep the cost down, said the designer, local sculptor Harry Weber. He added that he has been compensated for his work.

“An effort was made by all concerned to get the project done, whether or not all the money was raised in time,” he said.

The granite base was provided at no cost, according to McCarthy Building Cos., which worked with contractors to install the statue.

“Weber asked McCarthy to get the foundation in place, and we understood that there wasn’t much money,” said Mark Smith, project director at McCarthy.

He and colleague Dustin Roberts contacted local contractors and divvied up the project.

“Everybody had a little contribution, and each contractor contributed what they specialized in without hesitation,” Smith said.

The historic importance of the statue resonated with Weber. After the original sculptor selected to design the statue died, the Dred Scott Foundation put out a call for sketches. A dozen sculptors from around the nation sent blueprints to a judging committee in New York, and Weber’s was selected.

He said the design is meant to convey a human story. When history is humanized, Weber said, people can more easily identify with it.

“As husband and wife, they had every deck stacked up against them as they fought for freedom,” he said.

On April 6, 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their liberty in the St. Louis County courthouse, now known as the Old Courthouse.

The suit touched off a legal battle that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court, which made a watershed decision in 1857 to keep the Scotts enslaved. The ruling pushed America closer to civil war.

The unveiling of the statue at the Old Courthouse comes one month after a bronze bust of Dred Scott was installed in the state Capitol in Jefferson City, after Scott was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

Bob Moore, historian at the Old Courthouse, hopes the new statue will help people recognize the importance of the Scott court case.

“My hope is that when people pass by on the street they say, ‘Well, here are these two courageous people who took this huge step and defied the ruling elite,’ ” Moore said.

The unveiling Friday will take place on the east side of the Old Courthouse. Donations can be sent to the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 2009, Florissant, Mo. 63032.

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