Friday, November 12, 2010

Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story - Book Review

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was the honored speaker at the fundraiser dinner for Childhelp that Utah Dad and I attended a few weeks ago. I knew he was a passionate speaker, attorney and politician but until that night, I didn't know that he was also a writer. We left that night with a free copy of his book: Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story.

Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia in 1799. Eventually, his masters, the Blows, would move to Tennessee and then to Missouri. After the death of Mr. Blow, Dred was sold to Dr. Emerson, a military doctor. Dr. Emerson was sent by the army to Illinois, a free state, and he took Dred with him. Later, Emerson was transferred to Minnesota, another free state, where Dred met and married his wife Harriet.  Back in Missouri and in close proximity to the Blow children, who love Dred, he learned of a law in Missouri, that once free (as he was in Illinois and Minnesota, even though he didn't know it) always free. Dred and his group of white supporters and friends filed in court for his family's freedom. This set forth a series of court battles that would end in the Supreme Court of the United States and ignite the anti-slavery passion of Abraham Lincoln and the country.

Shurtleff tells Dred Scott's story in his historical novel. Much of the book reads like a novel but there are also sections that are more like historical narrative or biography. Personally, I enjoy histories and biographies, so I didn't mind. Shurtleff not only tells Scott's story, but includes the history and political wrangling involving slavery and the expansion of the United States during the mid nineteenth century. The book is well researched and the law put forth in terms simple enough for the lay-man (me) to understand. I was surprised and impressed with the moonlighting author's ability to write and write well. He succeeds in showing the strong character of Dred Scott and made him come alive in the book.

Dred Scott and his court battles became famous and propelled the country toward the election of Abraham Lincoln, the ultimate battle over slavery and eventually the emancipation of all slaves. His story is vital to our history as a nation and should be known and studied by us all. Shurtleff gives us a well researched, interesting and well written way to learn more about Dred Scott.

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