Kelley: Michael Brown Was One of “We the People,” Too


Six months after the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it is worth revisiting scholars’ reflections on what his death, extrajudicial killings of people of African descent, and histories of slavery and diaspora have in common. Last August, Blair L. M. Kelley reminded us of another infamous Missouri court case–Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857):

“And initially, a St. Louis circuit court ruled that Scott and his family should be free. However, Scott lost after Eliza Emerson appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court. Scott pressed appeal after appeal, finally being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1857 found that although Scott had lived in the free North and had been allowed to legally marry—the enslaved were legally prohibited from marrying—he was not, the court said, a free man. The decision articulated broad grounds for attacking not only Scott’s individual claim but also the freedoms of black Americans as a whole. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a staunch supporter of slavery, wrote the majority opinion, asserting that because Scott was black, he was not a citizen…

“In an unprecedented argument, Taney wrote that Scott had no right to sue, although in fact, black Americans had sued and petitioned for their freedom and their rights since Colonial times. Although some free blacks had even voted to ratify the Constitution, Taney dismissed the idea that the Declaration of Independence might apply to black Americans when it insisted that “all men are created equal,” writing, “It is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.” In his version of “original intent,” Taney insisted that the framers of the Constitution believed that black Americans were so inferior that they “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect….”

Read the rest: Michael Brown Was One of “We the People,” Too – The Root.

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