Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Writers Wednesday

Join me as I serve as today's host for the Freedom's Price Blog Tour with author Michaela MacColl

Thanks for having me here at All About Books. My newest book, Freedom’s Price (Calkins Creek 2015) is coming out this month and I’m so happy to have a chance to talk about it! 

Freedom’s Price is about Dred Scott’s children.  The Dred Scott Decision of 1857 is something that sounds familiar to most of us from American History – even if we can’t quite place the reference. In the decades before the Civil War one of the burning issues of the day was if slavery would extend to the Western territories as the country expanded. The Missouri Compromise tried to settle the question by saying that north of Missouri slavery was prohibited but to the south slavery was permitted.  Of course this compromise didn’t really solve the problem. What would happen if a slave owner took a slave into the northern territories? This is exactly what happened to Dred Scott, a slave whose owner took him to Illinois and Wisconsin. There he married another slave, Harriet, and then they moved with Dred’s owner to St. Louis, Mo.  Dred and Harriet had two daughters who were legally the owner’s property and could be taken from them at any time.  The Scotts sued for their freedom.  The case took 10 years and ended up at the Supreme Court. In a shameful decision, the Court ruled that Dred and Harriet, as persons of African ancestry, could never be citizens and therefore had no rights at all. Needless to say, this inflamed Northern abolitionists and set the country on the path to war.
            The Dred Scott Decision was so important – but what people forget is that there were human beings involved.  Dred and Harriet were like any parents who wanted to protect their kids. It was dangerous to sue their owners and in fact they had to live in a jail for many years. Harriet and Eliza did laundry by the shore of the Mississippi to earn their keep. Although the Scotts were illiterate, they sent their oldest daughter Eliza – even though it was illegal to teach black children.  She went to school on a ship anchored in the middle of the Mississippi River (which was federal territory). I was fascinated with the idea that Eliza would be told that she was free, but she lived in a prison. She could read but had to hide her knowledge.  Her patron was a slave owner but also extraordinarily kind.  And when cholera and a massive fire strike St. Louis, Eliza has to choose between freedom for herself or continued captivity with her family.


 Freedom’s Price was a challenge to write because the Scotts left no written record behind. They couldn’t write!  Eliza survives her childhood but never records her experiences. We have one picture of Eliza but it’s when she’s an adult. It’s from the single interview that we have with the Scott family. After they were freed they started a laundry business in St. Louis.

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