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Maryland State House Removes Statue Of Judge Who Wrote Dred Scott Decision

Workers use a crane to lift the monument dedicated to former  Chief Justice of the United States Roger Taney in Annapolis, Md., early Friday. The State House Trust voted Wednesday to remove the statue from its grounds.
Jose Luis Magana

Work crews took down a statue of former Chief Justice of the United States Roger Taney overnight in Annapolis, Md., where it had stood since 1872.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made a statement on Tuesday calling for the statue to be removed from the State House grounds, NPR's Bill Chappell reported. Hogan called it "the right thing to do," saying, "The time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history."

Three of the four members of the State House Trust, which oversees the historic building and its grounds, voted by email on Wednesday to remove the statue. Democrat Thomas "Mike" Miller, the Senate president, did not vote.

"This was certainly a matter of such consequence that the transparency of a public meeting and public conversation should have occurred," Miller wrote in a letter to Hogan, as the Associated Press reports.

Annapolis joins a growing list of cities that have moved quickly to take down monuments linked to the Confederacy following last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Va., which left one woman dead after car plowed into a crowd.

President Trump tweeted Thursday, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments." A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that a majority of Americans think Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville was "not strong enough."

Taney authored the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery. Scott was a slave in Missouri who was taken to Illinois, a free state. He sued for his freedom after he was taken back to Missouri. Taney wrote the majority opinion in the 7-2 decision, which declared that black Americans were not citizens.

Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree has called the Dred Scott case "the most regretted and despised decision ever by the Supreme Court when it comes to issues of race injustice."

The state installed the statue of Taney, a Maryland native who became the country's fifth chief justice, 145 years ago. In the years since, the state has added plaques explaining the historical context and controversy over the Dred Scott decision. The monument will be moved to a Maryland State Archives storage facility, The Baltimore Sun reports.

In 1996, on the opposite side of the State House, the state unveiled a statue of Baltimore native Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice. Last year, the trust said it would also erect statues honoring abolitionist leaders Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

"It was a beautiful thing to wake up and see something so beautiful happened when I was asleep," Gwen Norman of Baltimore told the Sun.

Earlier this week, Baltimore took down four monuments linked to the Confederacy, including statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson — as well as one of Taney.

The U.S. Capitol's Supreme Court chamber has a bust of Taney that was copied from the sculpture in Annapolis.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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