A statue showing an enslaved couple pulling the chains of oppression could be erected in Lauderdale County near a monument honoring the Confederate dead.
By Jonece Starr Dunigan | email@example.com
After more than a year of campaigning, hosting community discussions and pitching five different designs for a social justice monument, Florence-based nonprofit Project Say Something on Tuesday selected a statue featuring Dred and Harriet Scott.
"To have African American figures and bodies displayed in front of the courthouse will be powerful," said Camille Bennett, the founder of Project Say Something. "It shows what it means for Florence and can set an example for other cities."
Bennett said the organization is working on a presentation for the Lauderdale County Commission. If the design is approved by commissioners, the organization will then start raising the funds needed to create the statue itself.
The monument would be erected next to the 115-year-old Confederate memorial located in front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse. Bennett said selecting the Dred and Harriett Scott monument fits into the organization's mission to balance the state's Civil War history. Bennett said the monument ties Florence into a national story.
Dred Scott spent about a decade in Florence before he was sold to an army surgeon. After Dred and his wife Harriet sued for their freedom, Supreme Court justices ruled that blacks, freed or enslaved, were not U.S. citizens and thus could not petition for their freedom. The decision increased tensions between the North and the South before the Civil War.
Two artists submitted five different illustrations for the organization to consider. The other proposals included a bronze "Lady Justice" and a group of cast iron figures pushing against the weight of racial injustice. Wyoming artist David Alan Clark designed the Scott monument hoping it will create a positive influence in the Florence community for days to come in different ways.
"As the father of two daughters, I was pleased and surprised that Harriet had a pivotal influence in this because she was the one who started the entire 11-year legal battle and was a true partner with (Dred Scott) and other people at the time," Clark said. "It's important that you see a man and woman, husband and wife working together to produce important change. That's a message that's relevant in any day and age."
In August, Project Say Something hosted a showcase and displayed the different monument designs. Community comments collected during the event helped steer the organization's final decision.
Bennett said she received mixed reactions about the second version of the Scott monument, which included Taylor Blow. The Blow family owned Dred Scott while he was in Florence and paid for the Scotts' legal fees. But Bennett said many saw Blow's presence in the statue as distracting.
"He looked like he was anchoring Dred and Harriet and pulling a lot of the weight, which could be seen as racially insensitive," Bennett said. "Not that Blow was not important. He was an important ally, but in this case his figure was not working for us."
Bennett said the campaign has caught the eye of a few opponents. She said they were called "cockroaches" online. During a community meeting in a small, predominantly African American church last November, Bennett said two white men entered the church and recorded the event on their phones. Bennett said the men didn't speak and were frowning during the conversation. After the event, Bennett said she received a letter from an unknown individual.
"It kept challenging a statement that we made at our general discussion," Bennett said. "They were angry that we said that the Confederate monument was put there to intimidate African Americans, the central theme of the Civil War was not slavery and that 'the blacks' do not need a monument."
Bennett said Tori Bailey, president of the Tri-County Branch of the NAACP, also received a letter following the organization's first community meeting last October. She said that letter was the same except for one line.
"Mine didn't say, 'If you put another statue up, you will be in deep trouble,'" she said.
Bennett said that while the letters were upsetting, it didn't deter the group from moving forward with their mission.
"You kind of move through whatever negative feedback you get and you choose how much energy you give it," she said.