It has been proposed that the statue of former slaves Dred and Harriet Scott pulling a chain, be erected in front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse. Mr. Dred Scott was supposedly selected because he tried to help free the slaves.
About 1837 in Wisconsin, Mr. Scott met and married Harriet Robinson, a slave. Scott spent several years trying to gain his and his wife’s freedom, fighting all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, the court denied their freedom, this his name to fame. Although the case gained national attention, Scott fought only for his and his wife’s freedom. It is not accurate to insinuate that he fought for the freedom of other slaves.
Dred Scott was born a slave about 1799 in Southampton County, Virginia. He and his wife were only in Florence for about ten years from the time they arrived with their owners, the Peter Blow family.
They eventually moved back to St. Louis. Through a series of deaths, ownership changes, and remarriages, the Scotts were granted their freedom in 1857.
Dred Scott died one year later in 1858.
On the other hand, Mr. James T. Rapier, a civil rights activist, was born a free man in Florence on November 13, 1837 to free African American parents. Rapier’s father was a successful barber. James Rapier was educated by private tutors in Alabama and studied and received his higher education and law degree in Scotland and Canada before being admitted to the bar in Tennessee.
Rapier returned to his home in Alabama in 1866 and bought 550 acres of land. He became active in the Republican Party and served as a delegate to the 1867 state constitutional convention.
He was elected as a U. S. Representative in 1872 and was one of only three Black Congressmen during reconstruction.
While in Congress, Rapier had a national focus. He proposed authorizing a land bureau to allocate western lands to freedmen. He also proposed that Congress appropriate $5 million to devote to public education across the south.
He was one of seven black Congressmen in 1874 who testified for the Civil Rights Act. Rapier helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1875. He once said that he was, “half slave and half free,” having political rights but no civil rights.
Rapier was later appointed by the Ulysses S. Grant administration as a collector for the Internal Revenue Service in Alabama. He serving in that capacity until his death in 1883. Rapier was also known for many other achievements.
I applaud the local group for wanting to do something. However, I would not want my grand or great grandchildren to pass the courthouse and see such an image of Dred Scott as referenced above. In fact, I would not want to see such an image.
I would much rather see someone educated and someone of stature. There was at one time a group of African American men in the Shoals area who proposed to start a credit union in Mr. Rapier’s name. Although it did not materialize, the effort itself speaks to the high level of respect these businessmen had for Rapier.
There were several local families with ties to the Rapiers, namely the Brocks and Mrs. Bessie Foster who was an astute black businesswoman.
We, the African Americans of this area, deserve to have a statue at the courthouse which provides a more balanced perspective of our history.
I hope the Lauderdale County Commissioners will seriously consider erecting one of United States Congressman and Florence native, James T. Rapier.