Thursday, October 15, 2009


Who am I to tell this story? How can I, a white man from Utah possibly understand – let alone convey – what it was to be a SLAVE? Where is my legitimacy?

Six years studying and experiencing everying I possibly could about Dred Scott.

I have walked among the cotton fields and through the marshy swamps listening to the cicadas and feeling the wet heat of “The Olde Place” plantation in Southampton County VA where Dred was born “Sam Blow.”

I have knelt in prayer at the slave cemetery, where Sam’s brother “Dred” is buried, on the wide open grass campus of College in Hunstville, Alabama, which was cleared from the surrounding forests by Dred and his fellow slaves of Peter Blow. I’ve heard the music in my soul as I read the words of the slave prayer on the marker there: “Deep River, my home is over Jordan, Deep River, Lord; I wand to Pass over to Camp Ground.”

I twisted my ankle on the very same uneven bricks of the riverboat quay in St. Louis that Dred trudged up and down thousands of times as a porter to the Blow’s Jefferson Hotel. I have ridden the steamboats and swam in muddy and turbulent waters of the “Father of Waters” – the Mighty Mississippi.

I have felt Dred’s spirit at the remains of Ft. Armstrong on Rock Island Illinois and at the cite of the home of Dred’s second master, Army Surgeon John Emerson, who secured his claim by making Dred swim across the Mississippi and building and occupying a shack on the opposite shore in Davenport, Iowa.

I have wandered the snowy grounds of the beautifully preserved Fort Snelling in Minneapolis-St. Paul where Dred fell in love with Harriett and suffered through extreme winters. Walking under perhaps the same trees (now grow very old) whose youthful leaves might have bowed down as Dred and Harriett walked by hand in hand along the banks of the Minnessota where it flows into the Mississippi.

I have spent many hours in the halls and courtrooms of the Old Missouri Courthouse where Dred won then lost his freedom, and on the Eastern Steps where slave auctions took place.

And I have wept at the grave of Dred Scott at Calvary Cemetery.

I have done all this and yet I feel inadequate and unworthy. But can any of us really understand. Should we even try?

Become Free - then lose it.

Come back with me to 1852 St. Louis.

Read Chapters One and Two of my new novel, Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


“Deep River, my home is over Jordan. Deep River, Lord; I want to Pass over to Camp Ground.” - Slave Prayer on Marker Stone at Slave Cemetery on site of Peter Blow Plantation,
Oakwood College, Huntsville, AL

In 1857, Roger B. Tawney in his 20th year as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, took the bench with his fellow justices in the old Supreme Courtroom inside the U.S. Capitol Bldg. and began to read his ruling in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. It was only the second time in history (after Marbury v. Madison) that the Supreme Court ruled an act of Congress (in this case the Missouri Compromise) to be unconstitutional. But it wasn't that rare action that made the decision notorious – rather it was the extraordinary way in which the very embodiment of justice (“WE the PEOPLE…establish JUSTICE”)leaped beyond the scope of Scott’s claim to declare that a black man is not man and has no rights that a white man is bound to respect!

". . . We think they [people of African ancestry] are . . . not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. . . ." — Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, speaking for the majority

During the past 150 years, Dred Scott v. Sandford , has been unanimously criticized by historians, law professors and even supreme court justices as the “ghastly error” and likely the worst in the history of SCOTUS. (Why they even got the title wrong!) Justices have sometimes used it as a slur against a majority opinion. For example, Justice Scalia wrote that the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey “was no more legitimate than Dred Scott.”

So why write a book about it? What was it’s significance? Are there lessons to be learned? What impact did it have on the history of the United States of America, on slavery and civil rights? Where are we 150 years later? My goal writing Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story was to bring Dred and Harriett Scott to life and to propel them to the forefront of American History and Heroism and that after reading it, every one of you will think not just of the legal significance of “Dred Scott” but of Dred Scott, the man.

You’ll see that most of Dred’s life was spent on and around great rivers and small streams. In the words of Will Durrant, "Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians...ignore the banks for the river."
As an author of this work of historical fiction, I have celebrated the lives along the banks while documenting the journey upon and across the rivers that have divided this nation.
“The source of the American River is the pure, clear, dream of freedom, and justice and mercy; the lifeblood of a visionary embodiment of human hunger for a better life; the powerful current of this notion, this nation, indelibly carving its course into the landscape of the world.” - Kris Kristofferson, The Source, from the album “American River,” by Jonathan Elias

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My first book

Hi, I'm Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. I recently finished writing my first novel "Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story". I'm very excited to be able to share this inspirational story with all of you. The novel follows the life of the slave Dred Scott that was given his freedom and then had it swiftly taken away again. The book hits shelves on November 3rd and is currently available for pre-order from