Op-EdOpinion

WILLIAMS: Scott v. Taney

When presented without context, the name Roger Brooke Taney means little to most contemporary Americans. Taney was born in Calvert County, Maryland, very close to Washington, D.C. He was an attorney, served in the Executive and Judicial Branches of the U.S. government, was a member of the Democratic Party, and is infamous, as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, for authoring the equally infamous Dred Scott decision.

To provide context, in addition to being the Chief Justice of SCOTUS, Taney was pro-slavery and a southern sympathizer during the Civil War. His legacy of racism would live for over a hundred years. Some, like me, say that his legacy yet lives on. Taney’s decision held that no Black, free or enslaved, had ever enjoyed the rights of citizenship under the Constitution. He argued that Blacks were “regarded as beings of an inferior order, altogether unfit to associate with the white race … and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” I would argue that, consciously or not, his decision is ingrained in the psyche of white America and is used as justification for all forms of racial discrimination.

I submit that the current pattern of race-based voter suppression is rooted in the same mindset that Taney used to reach his decision. Counting the number of jelly beans in a jar or guessing the number of bubbles released by a bar of soap were mere indicators of the respect accorded to the rights of Blacks. After 1965, as long as African Americans and other people of color offered no real threat to the power and authority of the white establishment, they could “play” the game of voting. Ultimately, the usefulness of gerrymandering as a control against the demands for equal rights began to erode. We now see an unapologetic, full-blown racist attack on the voting rights of people of color and a perversion of the democratic principles fundamental to this nation. They understand that we have learned to effectively use the most powerful tool in any democracy.

Thursday, July 29, 2021, was my chosen day to get arrested. I stood in protest for the restoration of voter rights established under the For the People Act and the John Lewis Act. Inaction is unacceptable!

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Dr. Johnetta Cole (NCNW president), Faya Rose Toure (Alabama), Arlene Holt (AFL-CIO), Jarrett Sawyer (Morehouse University) and I were arrested for allegedly blocking the entrance to the Hart Senate Building. When given the option to pay a fine or request a court date, I chose the latter. The federal magistrate will hear my concerns on Nov. 24.

Considering the struggles of the past, this experience was relatively uneventful. There were no batons. There were no firehoses. There were no horses or dogs. There was a sense of urgency! We all knew that action could not be deferred for a later date. We all know that for the sake of survival we must mobilize in greater and increasing numbers. We have no time to waste!

On Aug. 3, 1857, the same year as the Dred Scott decision, Frederick Douglass delivered what some consider to be his greatest speech. From that speech came the words, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Douglass said. “It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”

Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.

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