This Commerce team member has a direct connection to the historic events that led to Juneteenth.
Juneteenth celebrates an event that happened in 1865, when slaves in Texas learned they had been freed as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation and the advance of Union soldiers into that state near the end of the Civil War. And while the series of events that led to the end of slavery in the United States might seem like the distant past, the reality is that there are connections to that era in today’s world.
A team member at Commerce is a living connection. Sherrie Jackson, a Private Client Advisor at Commerce Trust in St. Louis, is a direct descendant of Dred Scott. If you aren’t familiar with Scott, he was a slave who, along with his wife Harriet, sued for his family’s freedom, between 1848–1857. His case was eventually heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which not only ruled against him, but also determined that slaves were not U.S. citizens and thus had no ability to file any kind of lawsuits.
The court’s 1857 decision sparked outrage among some Americans and, according to the Missouri State Archives, “the intense and immediate public reaction accelerated a chain of events that made fighting a civil war unavoidable.” Four years later, the Civil War began, and as the nation began its third year of war in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
One wrinkle of that famous order was that its enforcement in Confederate states was dependent on the advance of the Union army. Each time the Union took control of a state, more slaves were freed — culminating in the army’s advance into Texas and the events of Juneteenth in 1865.
As it happened, Dred Scott did not live to see Juneteenth, although he did gain his freedom two months after losing his Supreme Court case, when the son of his original owner negotiated his purchase for the expressed purpose of immediately freeing him. Scott, his wife Harriet, and their two children remained in St. Louis, the city where he originally filed his suit — and is the same area that Jackson, Dred and Harriet’s great-great-great granddaughter, calls home today. Tragically, Scott did not live long as a free man; he died of tuberculosis nine months after his emancipation.
While Jackson’s historic family tree is not something that impacts her daily life, she recognizes its significance. “In some ways, it feels very distant, because there are so many generations between us,” she says. “At the same time, I know it’s meaningful to people, given the impact he had.”
Jackson says she’s known about her connection to Dred Scott for as long as she can remember, in large part because her family has a history of keeping his memory alive. Her mother, Lynne Jackson, is the president and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation.
“She established the Foundation in 2006 because she wanted to properly commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in 2007,” Sherrie explains.
“Even though I was living in mid-Missouri at the time while working as a teacher, I was able to attend some of the historic events at the Old Courthouse and Washington University. It was a huge success.”
Lynne was following in her father’s footsteps when she led the commemorative effort. “She wanted to lead the celebration around the 150th anniversary because her father, John Madison, had worked to commemorate the 100th anniversary back in 1957,” Sherrie says. “My mom has a lot of energy and knows a lot of people, so she’s great at what she does. I enjoy photography, so I’ll take pictures at the events — that’s what I’m good at.”
Just as the work of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation helps to inform people about aspects of U.S. history they might not be aware of, Jackson believes Juneteenth serves a very similar role. “I think it’s important for us to start expanding our definition of American history,” she says. “Many of us now understand more than we did 15, 20 or 30 years ago, as we realize there are multiple perspectives on history that got a little lost and needed to be recovered. History needs to be understood from different viewpoints, and there’s cultural and social momentum in America around hearing the variety of experiences that have happened in our country. Juneteenth represents greater knowledge of American history.”
Jackson was pleased when Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday in 2021 — although she was also surprised. “It happened so suddenly,” she says. “It was like I just woke up one day and it was a national holiday. And it’s a really big deal. It’s a good thing. It’s representative of some of the positive changes that are happening in our national consciousness. We’re hearing from different voices today.”
Juneteenth is important to Jackson personally as well. “It helps me to see history as more multifaceted,” she says.
“When I think of Juneteenth, I picture Black faces. Juneteenth just feels like something that was created by and nurtured within the Black community. Even the word ‘Juneteenth’ is very innovative and sounds like something we could create. When I first learned about it, it struck me as something that felt homespun. It didn’t belong to other people. It was ours. And I think that’s why it has endured.”
She encourages people to take some time to explore Juneteenth celebrations. “Attend events around town, wherever you are,” Jackson says. “Seek those kinds of things out.”
Most importantly, she adds, “Have some fun. It’s a celebration of freedom, and what gets celebrated gets remembered."
Photo taken in front of the Freedom Suits Memorial Project at the St. Louis Civil Courts Building, commemorating the legal efforts to free slaves.