This entry in MacCall and Nichols’ Hidden Histories series takes a fictional look at the Dred Scott decision.
Eliza Scott lives like she’s free, but her liberty is tenuous, at best. She is the 11-year-old daughter of Dred Scott, the litigant in the eponymous 1857 U.S. Supreme Court case regarding African-Americans’ liberties. She and her family live in a nether life between independence and slavery, and she, like quite a few hardheaded preteens, wants to live as though freedom is an assumption, not a wish. However, the realities the Scotts experience curtail Eliza’s sense of entitlement. They must live in a St. Louis jail while awaiting the outcome of the trial and avoid slave catchers who, as her mother reminds Eliza, could kidnap her and sell her—and then there’s the cholera outbreak that kills regardless of race or gender. As she struggles with this contradiction, she manages to make decisions that jeopardize her, her family, and her community. The narrow-escape scenarios MacColl and Nichols create shouldn’t lead readers to cheer Eliza’s pluck so much as to shake their heads at her foolhardiness—and in the antebellum United States, such foolhardiness would have led to sexual violence, if not death. While most middle-grade readers may not know this, presenting it as otherwise, even in a fictional frame, does both them and history a disservice.
It’s understandable to want to create spunky historical heroines, but some children in the past weren’t free to be headstrong—their survival depended on caution. To write fiction otherwise becomes gross revisionism. (author’s note, sources, further reading) (Historical fiction. 8-12)