Sunday, November 1, 2009

Am I Not a Man? The Dread Scott Story by Mark L. Shurtleff - A Review

It's been nigh on to sixty years since I was a fifth grader and first learned the name Dred Scott. So, it's not surprising that, before I read Mark L. Shurtleff's book Am I Not a Man?, the Dred Scott Story, I could not have told you (beyond a hazy, hazarded guess that it was about slavery), why the name was in my history book. I'm glad for the chance to renew my acquaintance with Dred Scott.

Mr. Shurtleff presents us history in an easily-assimilated form: in a tale or a fictionalized account of the events of Dred Scott's life. Though the word novel doesn't appear on the cover sheet of the book, it was described that way when I was asked to review it, and rightly so, for Mr. Shurtleff presents imagined conversations and actions of historical figures. The reader realizes that these conversations, and the unfolding events, though they spring from Mr. Shurtleff's imagination, are well grounded in history and the result of extensive research.

The book opens at a riveting point in the Dred Scott story: the Missouri Supreme court has just declared that Dred Scott is not free. Not only that, but through a twist of fate, in the intervening six years that Dred's case has been winding through the courts, his sympathetic former owner has died and ownership of Dred and his family has passed to a powerful, ardently pro-slavery family who demand restitution for the six years they have been deprived of profit from the Scott family's labors.

It is at that point that the book begins.

Mr. Shurtleff then takes the reader through the history of Dred's birth and how he arrived at the place where his suit for freedom was espoused by the family of his former owner and others willing to carry it to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Along the way, Mr. Shurtleff acquaints the reader with the currents of history that are flowing together to make the Dred Scott decision such a pivotal point in American History. I'm not going to reveal that here. If you don't remember it from your grade school or high school years, you need to read this book.

I teach workshops in "Writing Family History as Fiction", and one of the points I make, especially if I'm teaching at a Family History Conference, is that it's the stories that draw people in, that make people want to learn the names, dates, facts of what actually happened.

Mark L. Shurtleff has accomplished this here, because my readling list just expanded to include biographies of Chief Justice Roger Taney, a history of the Blackhawk War, and most of all, a biography of Dred Scott.

If you're interested in reading this book, click here to purchase in paper-and ink, here to buy in Kindle format.
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