Widener Law Program Marks 150th Anniversary of Reviled Dred Scott Decision Upholding Slavery
Published: April 27, 2007
dred1Widener Law's campus in Harrisburg marked the 150th anniversary of the infamous Dred Scott court decision with an afternoon program featuring a list of impressive speakers, including the son of one of the most important civil rights attorneys in American history.

"Dred Scott after 150 Years: A grievous wound remembered" was held the afternoon of April 2 and featured five speakers and a panel discussion.

Dred Scott was a slave who sued, unsuccessfully, for his freedom in the mid 1850s. The case began in the St. Louis Circuit Court and rose all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 against Scott in 1857, finding he owned no property and was not entitled to sue in federal court. The court did not view Scott as a legal citizen of the United States. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion, which found slaves had no claim to freedom and were considered property. The ruling escalated tensions between northern and southern states before the Civil War.

"Dred Scott was in fact the worst decision the U.S. Supreme Court has ever reached," said Widener Law Associate Professor Wesley M. Oliver, one of the speakers. "The type of wrong committed here is one we will never see again."

The list of presenters also included Charles Hamilton Houston Jr., lecturer in history at Morgan State University in Baltimore and the son of the late Charles dred2Hamilton Houston, an attorney who went on to serve as vice dean of Howard University School of Law. Houston dedicated his life to ending racial discrimination. He led the law school's effort to obtain accreditation by the American Bar Association and under his leadership Howard trained nearly one-quarter of the nation's African-American law students, including Thurgood Marshall - who looked to Houston as a mentor. Houston Jr.'s remarks explored his father's civil rights work. His father was the first, full-time salaried special counsel to the NAACP and was a pivotal figure in the organization's campaign to end segregation.

The conference was organized by the school's Law & Government Institute under the direction of Professor John L. Gedid.

Photo 1: Widener Law Professor John L. Gedid addresses the crowd.
Photo 2: Charles Hamilton Houston Jr., son of the late Charles Hamilton Houston, a noted civil rights attorney, was one of the day's speakers.
Photo 3: All the speakers made up a panel discussion. From left, Widener Law Professor John L. Gedid, Charles Hamilton Houston Jr. of Morgan State University, Robert E. Mensel of Charleston School of Law, Widener Law Associate Professor Wesley M. Oliver, Widener Law Assistant Professor Michael R. Dimino Sr. and Earl M. Maltz of Rutgers School of Law - Camden, N.J.