There’s a movement in Philadelphia to rename :Taney” Street, which is at 26th and 27th Street and runs through portions of North-west Philadelphia, inside three concilmanic districts. Taney Street was named after Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court in the days preceding the Civil War, and author of the infamous Dred Scott Decision.
Dred Scott was a slave belonging to Dr. John Emerson, an Army surgeon, after Scott’s former master died in 1832. Emerson, with Scott, went to Illinois, a free state, and then to Fort Snelling in the Wisconsin Territory, which, under the Missouri Compromise, prohibited slavery; at that time, Scott married a slave woman, Harriet Robinson, and she came under Emerson’s ownership.
In 1837, Emerson moved back to Missouri, leaving Scott and his wife, hired out, in Wisconsin; then Emerson moved to Louisiana and remarried, and Scott and his wife joined them; then they moved back to Wisconsin. Emerson died in 1843 in Iowa, and Scott, Harriet, and Emerson’s other slaves came under the control on Irene, Emerson’s second wife. Irene moved back to live with her father, and she hired out Scott and Harriet. Numerous times, Scott tried to purchase his freedom, but Irene constantly turned him down. Finally, in April 1846, Scott and Harriet sued for their freedom in the Federal Circuit Court in St. Louis, arguing that since they were taken to a free territory, they were automatically free and could not be enslaved, since they were in Illinois and Wisconsin, both free jurisdictions. In June 1847, however the court denied their claim and the case went into retrial.
In the retrial, on January 1850, Scott and his family were declared free. However, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed that decision in 1852, and the Scott family was again enslaved. In December 1854, Scott appealed to the US Supreme Court, and the trial began on February 1856. At that time, the Dred Scott case gained support from abolitionists and prominent attorneys.
But, on March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney, gave the majority opinion of the Court—that African-descended people “are not included, and were never intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument applies for and secures to citizens of the United States.” Taney also ruled against the prohibitions on slavery set forth in the Missouri Compromise, and declared that Congress had no power to regulate slavery anywhere in the United States.
And furthermore, Taney declared, African Americans “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it.”
(President James Buchanan, having been sworn in a couple of days earlier by Taney, knew that Taney’s Court would decide this way, and hoped it would be the final word on the slavery issue, and appease the southern men so they didn’t secede from the Union; as we see, it didn’t work out that way. How’s THIS for judicial activism?)
Now, there is a movement out to change the name of “Taney” Street. The proposed new name would be in honor of the late Philadelphia Civil-Rights activist Caroline LeCount. Lecount was born in 1846, and worked as a schoolteacher and then as a school principal; she led the fight to end segregation in Philadelphia’s trolley system. Just like with the removing of Confederate statues, we must remove the taint that “Taney” Street brings to this city.