Ben Carson, Dred Scott, and Historical Memory

Today is the 160th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision … you know, where Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared in his opinion that African Americans …

had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it.

Almost as if to commemorate this event, what did Ben Carson, the incoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, tell his new colleagues today?

That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.

Ah, yes. Enslaved people as immigrants looking to come to a land of opportunity for their descendants. They would work longer (and for a long time), to be sure, and harder, and for far less … as in no wages. In many cases, they would be torn away from husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and children, so that they would never know what happened to sons and daughters, let alone other generations down the line. Black women would be raped by white men and offspring would come of such violence.

Yes, these people dreamed of freedom. Recall the folks who wanted to deny them that freedom in 1860 … and how they continued to do so after 1865.

Then again, as we’ve been told by one famous Confederate heritage apologist, slavery was, after all, a choice.

I can’t wait for those whiny blogs that bemoan “political correctness” and proclaim that they are committed to historical accuracy and truth to get on this one. What, you say … those principled folks won’t do that? I wonder why?

Heritage, not history … has gone mainstream.

As for Dred and Harriet Scott, here’s a statue of them outside the very courthouse in St. Louis where they gained their freedom:


Let’s honor the cause for which they fought, and pray that it never becomes a lost cause.

56 thoughts on “Ben Carson, Dred Scott, and Historical Memory

  1. OhioGuy March 6, 2017 / 4:25 pm

    I believe you are taking Dr. Carson out of context. He is clearly not saying that slaves didn’t suffer great hardship and came here involuntarily. He is saying that even despite these cruel impediments that blacks dreamed of a better day in the midst of the worst circumstances. And that eventually it came to pass that they could start to achieve those dreams. He’s made this point in his writings. I will admit he sometimes expresses his thoughts more clearly in writing than extemporaneous speaking. He prides himself in never using notes. Perhaps he should.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 6, 2017 / 4:43 pm

      I don’t think so. Perhaps you can show me his context.

      I’m sure blacks dreamed of freedom. I said as much. But that’s not all he said, and to say otherwise is to take that comment out of context.

      Perhaps Mr. Carson will heed your suggestion.

      • OhioGuy March 6, 2017 / 6:38 pm

        Well, on a quick, look, I was able to find one quote from Dr. Carson about slavery. This is from the preface of his book One Nation. The context of this statement is that he is talking about the need for better educational opportunities in this country, especially for black youth:

        “Think back to a darker time in our history. Two hundred years ago when slavery was going on it was illegal to educate a slave, particularly to teach them to read. Why do you think that was? Because when you educate a man, you liberate a man. And there I was as a youngster placing myself in the same situation that a horrible institution did because I wasn’t taking advantage of the education. I was a horrible student. Most of my classmates thought I was the stupidest person in the world. They called me ‘dummy.’ I was the butt of all the jokes.”

        I think it’s clear here that he is saying that growing up in the Detroit ghetto he had adopted a slave-like mentality and that as a result his early education was a waste. I have read a number of other statement he has made about slavery, and he is consistent in calling it deplorable institution.

          • OhioGuy March 6, 2017 / 10:47 pm

            Can’t disagree with that!

  2. bob carey March 6, 2017 / 6:58 pm

    I have no doubt that Carson is a accomplished surgeon but when it comes to history he should leave it to the historians, remember the Webster quote about the second amendment.
    To say or even imply that manacled people were immigrants is plain wrong, next thing he might say is that they were illegals because they sneaked into the country below decks.

    • OhioGuy March 6, 2017 / 10:54 pm

      Well they actually WERE immigrants. They certainly were NOT willing ones.

      American Heritage Dictionary defines the word in this context thusly:

      im·mi·grant (ĭm′ĭ-grənt)
      1. A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.

      • John Foskett March 7, 2017 / 7:50 am

        The word “to” implies the person’s purpose/intention. It doesn’t work here.

        • OhioGuy March 7, 2017 / 8:28 am

          No it doesn’t!

          • John Foskett March 7, 2017 / 8:42 am

            Looks like we agree!

      • hankc9174 March 10, 2017 / 11:32 am

        By that definition, Jews on cattle cars headed to the death camps were immigrants to Poland.

        Carson is mixing his stories.

        Irish, Norwegian, Ukrainian, Italian, and other, immigrants boarded ships *with* their dreams; enslaved Africans left their dreams behind.

      • OhioGuy March 7, 2017 / 3:55 pm


        • Andy Hall March 8, 2017 / 8:27 am

          Some wag referred to Carson as a “idiot savant,” whose skill happens to be neurosurgery. That’s snarky, of course, but he is a great example of how superior skill and accomplishment in one field doesn’t translate well to other areas.

          • James F. Epperson March 8, 2017 / 11:04 am

            A friend who is a (retired) nurse has told me that a number of surgeons she worked with were absolutely brilliant and skilled doctors, but totally stupid outside of the hospital.

          • Andy Hall March 10, 2017 / 2:51 pm

            I know a physician — not a surgeon, but in a related high-risk specialty — who had a “Ted Nugent for President” sticker on his office door. I thought he was making a sarcastic meta-critique of the modern American political landscape, until I heard him talking to someone about it and realized he was serious.

            So, yeah.

  3. Nathan Towne March 7, 2017 / 8:13 am

    Dr. Simpson,

    I must admit that I am confused what the relevancy of the Dred Scott decision is with regards to Carson’s comment. Is this about a political agenda or is this about history?

    If it is about the later, you and I both know that you have made no attempt here to discuss the pertinent issues of the Dred Scott case.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 7, 2017 / 8:23 am

      I simply noted the coincidence. That simple fact eluded you. Why?

      Am I to understand that you want a detailed discussion of the Dred Scott case in a short blog entry that simply notes the anniversary of the case (and links tothe opinions,which you seem to have ignored)? Or am I to assume that all you really wanted to do was to take a potshot that smacks of political motivation? How clever!

      Either way, it seems you need to work on your approach. But I can point you to detailed treatments of the case … if that’s what you are really interested in. Otherwise, you may continue to take your history from Ben Carson. Start with the pyramids.

      • Nathan Towne March 8, 2017 / 8:22 am

        Yes, I have a number of great books on the Dred Scott case.

        I am simply saying that the post came across as disingenuous to me. You noted the anniversary of the Dred Scott decision, provided a quote from Taney’s decision which really doesn’t define the case and then excoriate Carson for a comment that he made, “almost as if to commerate” this event when he was clearly not trying to do so.

        To me, it smacks of political motivation and strikes me as dishonest. That is just my opinion.

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 8, 2017 / 10:35 am

          Thank you for your opinion. Since you now see me as a dishonest person, I guess I can wonder why you like such a dishonest blog. Be honest.

          Noting the anniversary of a decision doesn’t demand that I launch into a full-scale explanation of it. Your complaining seems disingenuous and politically motivated, and you aren’t being honest about that. If you want to defend Carson, then have the integrity to do so. Defend Karen Cooper as well.

          • Nathan Towne March 8, 2017 / 10:48 am

            I only meant this post, not you as a person.

            As for Cooper, if you knew me you would know that I have little sympathy for the Confederate cause.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 8, 2017 / 5:34 pm

            Whatever. I’m waiting for your defense of Dr. Carson.

          • Nathan Towne March 11, 2017 / 7:24 am

            Dr. Simpson,

            I was simply saying that it seems a bit off of the mark to me to state that Carson was speaking “almost as if to commemorate,” the anniversary of the Dred Scott decision. I am also a bit confused by your use of Taney’s qoute in characterizing the decision because that portion of his opinion does not really deal with the holding of the court.

            Implying that I have some political motive is really not accurate. I didn’t even vote for Trump in the general election.

  4. Nightflyer March 7, 2017 / 8:34 am

    Was the Dred Scott Decision actually ever overturned? I know In Re Korematsu was never overturned. Both disgraceful decisions.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 7, 2017 / 8:36 am

      The Fourteenth Amendment negated what remained of the decision by 1868 … as the Thirteenth Amendment had already ended slavery as an institution.

      • Nightflyer March 7, 2017 / 8:38 am

        Okay…just making sure. the 13th Amendment trumps the Supreme Court decision. In this country, anything is possible.

    • John Foskett March 7, 2017 / 8:50 am

      Korematsu hasn’t been overruled because the Court needs a case before it which raises the question in order to do so. Plessy v. Ferguson was overruled because the same question regarding application of the Fourteenth Amendment was raised in Brown v. The Board.

      • Nightflyer March 7, 2017 / 2:04 pm

        Well, we’ll see the Korematsu case taken up when the Combover finds it necessary to “detain” Muslims.

      • The Other Mark March 8, 2017 / 10:54 am

        Plessy was overruled as to public schools in Brown but was not overturned in its entirety. That was effectively done by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

        • Msb March 9, 2017 / 6:15 am

          Thanks for this info, also to John Foskett.

        • John Foskett March 9, 2017 / 11:28 am

          That’s technically correct but the partial overruling did not distinguish Plessy and strongly suggested that it was incorrectly decided. it was effectively a dead letter after that. Korematsu (probably because of the war time context involved) still technically breathes.

  5. The Other Mark March 7, 2017 / 8:57 pm

    “Certainly, it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves. There was discrimination and hardship and poverty. But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more. ”

    President Barack Obama, December 15, 2015

  6. TFSmith March 7, 2017 / 11:44 pm

    The fact the good doctor serves in a Republican administration is simply icing on the cake.


  7. OhioGuy March 8, 2017 / 11:51 am

    I think he’ll do a very good job as HUD secretary. This current controversy is a contrived one. You know if any black Democratic had used the word immigrant in this context, nobody would have made a big deal out of it. And, there are several very inarticulate black Democrats in Congress, but I won’t single them out by name. Look at the context of his statement, where he talked about arriving in the bowels of a slave ship, etc. Also, if you watch the video, you’ll note a pause, not noticeable in the transcript, which puts a little diffeence on his statement about the aspirations of slaves. This is the type of mindless attack that really gets us nowhere and resembles a schoolyard taunt.

    Also let me say again, Carson’s use of the word “immigrant” was not even technically wrong. Slaves were immigrants, just not willing ones!

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 8, 2017 / 5:32 pm

      I think they worked far harder for zip. That’s what makes slavery slavery. And if he’s going to talk about families, it might make sense to suggest how the workings of slavery disrupted those families.

  8. OhioGuy March 8, 2017 / 11:54 am

    . . . puts a little different emphasis on his statement . . . (Autocorrect got me, again.)

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 8, 2017 / 5:31 pm

      And yet the wording made it come off differently. The devil’s in the details in this case.

      But if the best one can do is to say, “Obama did it too,” one’s conceded an inability to defend Carson on the merits.

      • Mark March 8, 2017 / 6:47 pm

        This issue has nothing to do with merit. I posted the link without comment for a reason. I didn’t do that because it was the “best” I could do. The point is it’s all I needed to do. This trumped up issue isn’t worth any more than the bare minimum, which is what I gave it.

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 9, 2017 / 12:01 am

          Having read the link, I came to a different conclusion about its contents.

          “Trumped up” … very funny.

      • The Other Mark March 8, 2017 / 8:21 pm

        At least we are now all in agreement that heritage, not history, was mainstreamed in the prior Administration.

      • Mark March 9, 2017 / 2:09 pm

        >> But if the best one can do is to say, “Obama did it too,” one’s conceded an inability to defend Carson on the merits.

        Just to be clear, in this context showing that Obama did the same thing 11 times isn’t a tu quoque fallacy as I suspect you’re implying. That’s a logical fallacy to claim something isn’t wrong if an accuser is guilty of the same, or a similar, because that wrong is irrelevant to the truth of the original charge. What type of wrong is really being claimed here, and of whom?

        Merely to critique one’s critics’ behavior by their own standard isn’t necessarily a tu quoque fallacy. In fact failing to do so often prevents people from lurching into bias confirmation. Similarly, it’s an ad hominem fallacy to claim that that someone’s known history of lies has anything to do logically with whether his current claim is true or false. But lacking time, resources for investigation, and relevance to us, it’s often a display of wisdom in choosing to ignore such person’s opinion on the matter at a given time.

        Anyway, the point being that Obama’s words are providing relevant context that logic doesn’t rule out. In fact, logic would dictate that examining how other people use these terms together. Instead of Obama, we could have used any politician or public figure. He’s just an obvious choice because he’s a politician that talks about both subjects a lot, and other obvious similarities to Carson.

        Realizing that, a more plausible retort to make towards me would have been that I was using the argumentum ad populum fallacy. But again, I take it that the idea that Carson’s few words on the subject show ignorance of the reality of slavery or that the evils of it are exaggerated are absurd. I don’t wish to parse his or Obama’s words at the present time, or anyone for that matter. I’ll leave that to others.

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 9, 2017 / 7:44 pm

          Thank you for sharing your perspective. You seem to read a lot into what’s not there.

          You still haven’t pointed out where I criticized Dr. Carson for saying what he said. You just jumped to that conclusion.

  9. OhioGuy March 9, 2017 / 12:01 am

    I don’t think he’d disagree with that. It just wasn’t the point he was making. I’m not saying he made it in the most articulate way possible, but it’s clear he was saying that even in the midst of slavery African Americans still had dreams. I’ve read some slave narratives that would support that point.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 9, 2017 / 12:08 am

      Dr. Carson should be smart enough to make his argument so clear that there’s no mistaking what he said. He’s had this problem before, and he knows it. As it is, what he’s said is open to all sorts of interpretations.

      That said, it’s interesting how many people jumped to conclusions about what I said. Did I denounce Dr. Carson? Nope. In fact, did I take him on? Nope. I simply elaborated on what he said. That some of you read it as you did says something about your filters, not mine. 🙂

      • OhioGuy March 9, 2017 / 8:10 pm

        That could be true, as I’ve liked Dr. Carson for years, before he was known nationally outside medical circles. However, the reaction you describe from me and others might also be, at least in part, due to some of your previous takes on Dr. Carson and general knowledge of your leanings on current political issues.

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 9, 2017 / 10:41 pm

          People guess a lot about my leanings. As for previous takes, Dr. Carson often leaves me with the puck in front of an empty net.

          • John Foskett March 10, 2017 / 8:02 am

            He does seem to like that diagonal outlet pass through his own slot.

    • Msb March 9, 2017 / 6:18 am

      I’ll bet they did. I’ll bet they dreamed of not being murdered, injured, mutilated, raped and/or sold away from their families, all to benefit someone else.

  10. OhioGuy March 9, 2017 / 8:05 pm

    You’d be surprised how visionary some of them could be in the midst of the context you describe. They had dreams that were more than just surviving their immediate circumstances. Here the lyrics of a song by abolitionist Henry Clay Work that expresses some of these dreams for a better future:

    poet Henry Clay WorkPoet’s PagePoemsCommentsStatsE-BooksBiographyShare on FacebookShare on Twitter
    Poems by Henry Clay Work : 64 / 72 « prev. poem next poem »
    Wake Nicodemus! – Poem by Henry Clay Work
    Autoplay next video
    Nicodemus, the slave was of African birth,
    And was bought for a bagful of gold;
    He was reckon’d as part of the salt of the earth,
    But he died years ago, very old.
    ‘Twas his last sad request as we laid him away
    In the trunk of an old hollow tree;
    “Wake me up!” was his charge, “at the first break of day —
    Wake me up for the great Jubilee!”

    The “Good Time Coming” is almost here!
    It was long, long, long on the way!
    Now run and tell Elijah to hurry up Pump,
    And meet me at the gumtree in the swamp
    To wake Nicodemus today.

    He was known as a prophet — at least was as wise —
    For he told of the battles to come;
    And we trembled with dread when he roll’d up his eyes,
    And we heeded the shake of his thumb.
    Though he clothed us with fear, yet the garments he wore
    Were in patches at elbow and knees;
    And he still wears the suit that he used to of yore,
    As he sleeps in the old hollow tree.

    Nicodemus was never the sport of the lash,
    Though the bullet has oft cross’d his path;
    There were none of his masters so brave or so rash
    As to face such a man in his wrath.
    Yet his great heart with kindness was filled to the brim —
    He obeyed who was born to command;
    But he long’d for the morning which then was so dim —
    For the morning which now is at hand.

    ‘Twas a long weary night — we were almost in fear
    That the future was more than he knew;
    ‘Twas a long weary night — but the morning is near,
    And the words of our prophet are true.
    There are signs in the sky that the darkness is gone —
    There are tokens in endless array;
    While the storm which had seemingly banished the dawn,
    Only hastens the advent of day.

    • OhioGuy March 9, 2017 / 11:11 pm

      The above was a response to MSB not to Brooks. I apparently put it in the wrong place. Easy to do when you are responding on an iPhone. I’m using a computer now.

      • Msb March 11, 2017 / 2:49 am

        Love that song. “Long night” andr “almost in fear” refers to the hazards I mentioned.

        • OhioGuy March 11, 2017 / 12:42 pm

          You are obviously, correct. The song also express hopes for a much better future:

          “There are signs in the sky that the darkness is gone —
          There are tokens in endless array;
          While the storm which had seemingly banished the dawn,
          Only hastens the advent of day.”

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