I, Dred Scott: A Fictional Slave Narrative Based on the Life and Legal Precedent of Dred Scott

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Born into slavery in Virginia in the late 1700s, Dred Scott had little to look forward to in life. But he was fortunate in two ways: His first owner was fairly kind to him, and he grew up with his owner's children, forming friendships that he would come to depend on years later. For on April 6, 1846, Dred Scott and his wife, Harriett -- their ownership having changed hands several times during adulthood -- took the dangerous and courageous step to sue for their freedom, entering into legal battles that would last...
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Christensen, Bonnie New York, NY 2005 Hard cover Good. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 96 p. Contains: Illustrations. Intended for a juvenile audience.

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I, Dred Scott: A Fictional Slave Narrative Based on the Life and Legal Precedent of Dred Scott

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Overview

Born into slavery in Virginia in the late 1700s, Dred Scott had little to look forward to in life. But he was fortunate in two ways: His first owner was fairly kind to him, and he grew up with his owner's children, forming friendships that he would come to depend on years later. For on April 6, 1846, Dred Scott and his wife, Harriett -- their ownership having changed hands several times during adulthood -- took the dangerous and courageous step to sue for their freedom, entering into legal battles that would last for eleven years. During this time Dred Scott would need all the help and support he could get -- from folks in the community all the way back to the people with whom he had been raised.
With a foreword by Dred Scott's great-grandson, Shelia P. Moses' stunning story chronicles Dred Scott's experiences as a slave, as a plaintiff in one of the most important legal cases in American history, and -- at last -- as a free man. Dred Scott's story is one of tremendous courage and fierce determination. His is a life that should be known by -- and should inspire -- all Americans.

Having served his master in northern states, under the provisions of the Missouri compromise the slave Dred Scott may be eligible for emancipation, but legal obstacles stand in the way of his freedom.

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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
This brief novel goes into the category of "worthy." The Dred Scott Case is one of the most infamous in US Supreme Court history, yet most of us are probably a bit foggy about the details of the case. Reading this fictionalized account helps educate us; we also realize how complicated the facts in the case are and that some basic facts about Dred Scott's life are unknown. As the narrator says at the beginning, "I was born in Southampton, Virginia, some where 'bout 1700. I ain't got no ways of knowing my right age, 'cause I was born a slave." The 97 pages tell of owners changing, and travels with owners into Illinois and Wisconsin, where Congress prohibited slavery under the rules of the Missouri Compromise, which became the basis for Dred Scott's later plea for freedom. The court case lasted 11 years, and Dred Scott's fiercest supporters were the children of his owners, who supported Dred and his wife Harriet through their struggles. The author wrote The Legend of Buddy Bush and is the co-author of Dick Gregory's memoir, Callus on My Soul. She is committed to telling the story of African Americans and has produced an accessible vehicle to tell about this important legal case. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, Simon & Schuster, 97p. illus., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
Children's Literature
Ms. Moses ambitiously uses facts found in the United States Supreme Court case and biographical information about Mr. Scott to write a fictional narrative about Mr. Scott's life. After living in slave states and being hired out to live in free states, Mr. Scott's attorneys used the United States Constitution and the 1820 Missouri Compromise to seek Mr. Scott's emancipation. The Supreme Court, however, in 1857 ruled that all blacks, whether slave or free, could not become citizens of the United States and found the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. It is believed that this decision helped Northerners realize the perils of slavery and began the road to civil war. It is a good effort describing an extraordinary event in American history. The book includes an author's note on Mr. Scott's death, a section entitled "The Impact of the Dred Scott Decision," and a chronology. It is a good source of information on this most important American. 2005, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, Ages 12 up.
—Gilda R. Daniels
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-This fast-paced story chronicles the life of the enslaved man best known for his lawsuit to win his freedom. While Scott is mentioned in most elementary American history textbooks, the details of his 11-year legal struggle are largely ignored. While acknowledging that he was fairly well treated by his owners, the book reinforces the fact that slaves were forced to work against their will, with no pay, and often separated from family members. The extent to which they were considered property is evident in this novel as Scott is moved about the country and hired out to others at the whim of his owners. The narrative is written in the dialect Scott would have spoken, which may make it difficult reading for some children. Also, Moses fails to give a real sense of her subject; Scott never expresses emotion inwardly or outwardly. Still, fans of historical fiction written in journal format, made popular by the "Dear America" series (Scholastic), will enjoy this story, which will reach even more students if read aloud. The book contains a foreword written by Dred Scott's great-grandson.-Anne L. Tormohlen, Deerfield Elementary School, Lawrence, KS Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From 1846 to 1857, Dred Scott tried to get courts to recognize his right to freedom. His lawyers argued that since he had spent considerable time in free states he ought to be free, according to the Missouri Compromise. Lower courts went back and forth in a series of cases and appeals, and in 1857, in Scott v. Sanford, Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney read a 50-page, two-hour decision stating that African-Americans were not citizens and had no rights. Dred Scott remained a slave until a new owner granted him his freedom shortly thereafter. Moses's fictional slave narrative is an important work that gives voice to a pivotal American, whose case edged the nation closer to war. However, Scott's narrative voice seems disembodied; there's too little character development and historical context to make Dred Scott seem like a real person. Much is told, but there's no drama in the telling. Christensen's illustrations aptly complement the text, and the foreword by the great-grandson of Dred Scott will remind readers of Dred Scott's legacy. (author's note, the impact of the decision, chronology, bibliography) (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689859755
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Publication date: 1/6/2005
  • Pages: 112
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Poet, author, playwright, and producer Shelia P. Moses was raised the ninth of ten children on Rehobeth Road in Rich Square, North Carolina. She is the co-author of Dick Gregory's memoir, Callus on My Soul, as well as the award-winning author of several books for young readers: The Legend of Buddy Bush; The Return of Buddy Bush; I, Dred Scott: A Fictional Slave Narrative Based on the Life and Legal Precedent of Dred Scott; and The Baptism. Shelia lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Read an Excerpt

Foreword

When I first found out that Shelia Moses was writing a book based on the life and times of my great-grandfather, Dred Scott, I must say I was not sure about how it would turn out. I knew she had written Dick Gregory's autobiography, but Mr. Gregory was alive to speak for himself. My great-grandfather died without ever even learning to read or write. His wife and children were denied the right to any form of education. None of them had ever recorded their journey to freedom. How would Shelia Moses write about them and tell their story?

It occurred to me later that how she did it was not as important as simply telling his story. And she does tell his story — not the story of a court decision or a slave, but rather the story of a man, a husband, a father; and, yes, my great-grandfather.

My grandmother Lizzie Scott was Dred Scott's second-born child. She married my grandfather Henry Madison in the late 1800s, and they had a son, John Madison Sr., who was my father. All my life I have lived proudly as the descendant of a family that helped to change the course of the Civil War and the history of slavery.

Many books have been written about the Dred Scott Decision and all the judges, lawyers, and slave owners who played a part in what would happen to my ancestors. However, this book is different in that it is fiction based on facts that Shelia Moses uses to give depth to the story of my forefather and his family.

This book holds true to my great-grandfather's life; my great-grandmother's support; and my grandmother and her sister, who sat on the sidelines, probably in fear.

I hope that people all over the world will read and love the characters to which Shelia Moses has given so much love. I hope you will finish this book knowing that Dred Scott was different from the court ruling that said he was only one-fourth of a man. He was my great-grandfather — and the start of our legacy.

— John A. Madison Jr., great-grandson of Dred Scott

Foreword copyright © 2005 by John A. Madison Jr.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 2, 2010

    fascinating story that is well narrated

    A few years ago, when our son Jeremy, then 11 or 12, was writing an essay on Dred Scott for a contest sponsored by the Jefferson Expansion National Park in St. Louis, MO, I looked and looked around for children's books, either biography or even historical fiction, about Dred Scott for him to read and could not find any. So we just used encyclopedia articles for reference. Then a couple of years later, I saw I, Dred Scott in the Louisiana Purchase bookstore at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, part of the Jefferson Expansion National Park, and purchased it. It was a National Book Award Finalist and a Black Expressions Book Club Selection. Following a Foreword by John A. Madison, Jr., a great-grandson of Dred Scott, Shelia P. Moses writes about the life of Dred Scott in the first person as if Scott himself were telling the story, including the time Chief Justice Roger Taney issued his infamous decision that not only denied the Scotts their freedom but voided the Missouri Compromise and hasted the coming of the Civil War. In the meantime, however, Irene had remarried an abolitionist doctor in Boston, MA. He agreed to sell the Scotts back to Taylor, the son of Peter Blow, in St. Louis, who then freed them. Scott himself died just over a year later in 1858.
    Moses uses the kind of patois that Scott himself would have probably used (e.g., "So he had to sale us to Taylor Blow."), which gives it a feeling of authenticity. There were a few statements that were a bit confusing. In describing the events which led to the murder of Elijah Lovejoy in Alton, IL, for "writing about the murder of a free black man named Francis McIntosh," it is said that "A big fight broke out and Mr. Murdoch killed one deputy and hurt another" but right after that is the statement, "Mr. Lovejoy did not think it was right for Francis McIntosh to kill man." In describing the various court trials, it is said, "This time the trial would be over in Jefferson City, where they had the Supreme Court," but later, "we got word that the judge over in Jefferson County said we was not free." Having lived in Missouri, I can tell you that Jefferson County, just outside St. Louis, is NOT the same as Jefferson City, the capital! And it is said that in 1858 "Abraham Lincoln who was running for president of the United States of America spoke about us in one of his speeches." Lincoln was running for a U. S. Senate seat from Illinois in 1858; he did not run for President until 1860, after Scott had died. I do not know whether these errors are simply mistakes by the author or are deliberately used to represent supposed confusion on the part of Scott. Otherwise, this is a fascinating story that is well narrated.

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    Posted May 19, 2009

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