Reliving the Past and Not Moving Beyond It

Local Frederick County attorney E. Kevin Lollar is proposing a plaque to be added to the bust of Roger Taney currently outside the Frederick City Hall. Lollar noted:

said he doesn’t dwell on the past, he focuses on the future.

It is with that mindset that the local attorney and development director for the Frederick Housing Authority is working to ensure a bust of Roger Brooke Taney at City Hall will educate rather than omit the former jurist’s role in a landmark Supreme Court decision.
‘‘Our history is our history,” he said. ‘‘We can’t change it, but maybe we can look at it and learn from it.”

Five months ago, the Frederick County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sought the removal of the 76-year-old bust from the hub of Frederick’s government. The group’s reason was Taney’s controversial opinion in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sanford. Taney, a former Frederick resident, authored the majority opinion for the Supreme Court, stating that blacks, even those freed from slavery, were not citizens and had no rights.

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In his decision, Taney referred to blacks as ‘‘beings of inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race …”

Memorializing a man whose words preached prejudice did not sit well with members of the NAACP or Lollar, who is black.

There can be no doubt that Taney was a racist and the the Dred Scot decision was a nadir in American legal and constitutional history, but do we have to keep reliving the past?

Anyone who sees Taney’s bust and wants to know more will quickly learn of Taney’s opinion in Dred Scot and its influence on the events leading up to the Civil War. Do we have to continually air our dirty laundry?

Lollar claims that he wants to live for the future, and I am not suggesting that we bury or forget the past, but I am unsure how holding on to a Supreme Court decision that is over 160 years old, the product of another time in history, and a demonstrably wrong decision helps us move forward. If we are looking for a way to move forward, why don’t we simply admit Taney a racist, that it was bad and start to find a way in this country to make sure that race is not an issue. Throwing the past in the the path to a colorblind society is not the way to make a color-blind society.

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