TITLE: Mary Neighbour: Speak Right On
SPEAKER: Mary E. Neighbour
EVENT DATE: 2007/03/06
RUNNING TIME: 66 minutes
On March 6, 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African-Americans were not U.S. citizens, a decision that intensified ongoing debates about slavery, further polarizing the North and the South and helping give rise to the Civil War.
Award-winning writer Mary E. Neighbour discussed "Speak Right On," her novel about Dred Scott, the former slave at the heart of the 1857 decision, in a program sponsored by the Center for the Book.
In 1850, Scott was declared a free man by a St. Louis jury. However the Supreme Court in Missouri, a slave state at the time, reversed the decision two years later. Defended by Montgomery Blair, former mayor of St. Louis, Scott appealed the reversal to the U.S. Supreme Court. On March 6, 1857, the court ruled against Scott, seven to two. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, included the stipulation that blacks could not be citizens of the United States and thus could not claim any of the rights and privileges of citizenship. He also declared that the congressional ban on slavery in the western territories, a major provision of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, was unconstitutional because it violated the rights of slaveholders to their property.
Scott did not live long enough to witness the war that would ultimately resolve the nation's position on slavery, but he did die a free man. In May 1857, the children of Peter Blow, Scott's owner in Missouri, purchased him and his family and freed them. On Sept. 17, 1858, Scott died of tuberculosis.
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Speaker Biography: Mary E. Neighbour is an award-winning writer of short fiction; "Speak Right On" is her first novel. After attaining a bachelor's degree in literature and creative writing from the City University of New York, she studied and trained as a psychotherapist before returning to a career in writing. She became interested in Dred Scott when she had trouble learning the facts about his life, even though he was one of America's most famous former slaves. In 2004, "Speak Right On" was one of the top prize-winners in the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association competition for unpublished first novels.
SERIES: Books & Beyond