Ahead of RootsTech keynote, Dred Scott descendant talks unity, reconciliation and family history

Lynne M. Jackson is the great-great-granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott, who were denied their freedom by the Supreme Court in 1857

From Harvard University to aircraft company Boeing, Lynne M. Jackson has spoken to a wide range of audiences. She’s also appeared in documentaries produced by the History Channel, Netflix and PBS and received awards from Daughters of the American Revolution, the Missouri House of Representatives and others.

But speaking at RootsTech is a unique experience because its audiences “are people who really care about their history and care about their family pasts,” she said. “And they will be most interested and probably do the most with the information that they get at this conference.”

Jackson, a descendent of Dred and Harriet Scott, will be a keynote speaker at RootsTech 2024 on Friday, March 1. She’ll tell her ancestors’ story during the 3-day global family history conference scheduled for Feb. 29-March 2 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and virtually at

Prior to the conference, she also spent time with a General Authority Seventy from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others during a lunch on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

During the lunch, Jackson sat down with Church News to talk about reconciliation, unity and the importance of each person’s history.

She recalled her experience speaking at the 2022 dedication of the Freedom Suits Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, which honors 300-plus enslaved people who sued for their freedom.

That dedication was an opportunity to remind people that “Dred and Harriet Scott’s story is critical, and it’s national, but everybody’s story is important,” Jackson said. “So I really like to inspire people to ... go find [their] own [stories], because people are finding amazing things.”

Lynne Jackson joins leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and leaders from the NAACP for a lunch at Capital Grille in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Reconciliation and unity

Jackson is the great-great-granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott. In the Dred Scott v. Sanford case of 1857, the Supreme Court denied Dred and Harriet’s petition for freedom, ruling that enslaved people were not citizens of the country and could not expect protection under the law.

The decision is considered one of the catalysts for starting the U.S. Civil War, a conflict that resulted in the abolition of slavery across the nation. Dred and Harriet Scott were eventually granted the freedom they were once denied.

Jackson is also the founder and president of The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, created to “promote the commemoration, education and reconciliation of our histories ... and ensure that we never forget the struggle for freedom, citizenship and equality, with an eye towards helping to heal the wounds of the past,” according to its mission statement.

Jackson said she began the foundation in 2006 with clear ideas of what the “commemoration” and “education” parts of the mission would look like, and with less certainty about the “reconciliation” part.

But feeling guided by God, she went forward with faith. “Here we are, 18 years later, and the reconciliation story is probably bigger than the other two.” For instance in 2017, she met with descendants of Justice Roger Taney — the 1857 Supreme Court justice who wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case — and accepted a formal apology from Taney’s great-great-grandnephew on behalf of the Taney family.

Jackson’s reconciliation work also makes her appreciative of the 10 Million Names Project: an initiative seeking to restore the identities of the estimated 10 million people of African descent who were enslaved in pre- and post-colonial America. The project launched in August 2023, and FamilySearch announced its involvement on Feb. 15. Genealogical society American Ancestors will also share the project’s story on the main stage at RootsTech on Friday, March 1.

Jackson said the 10 Million Names Project creates a “national umbrella” for a myriad of local reconciliation projects, such as St. Louis University’s acknowledgement that the school was built by slaves.

“It’s those kinds of things that bring us together. ... And I think that it’s the small links and small teams that are coming together that’s going to create the bigger picture,” she said.

Lynne Jackson joins leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and leaders from the NAACP for a lunch at Capital Grille in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Coming together, understanding each other

The idea of “coming together” was front and center during Wednesday’s lunch, which included Elder Randall K. Bennett, a General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Shelley Bennett; Portia Prescott and Pastor Thomas Mayes of the NAACP; Thom Reed, a deputy chief genealogical officer for FamilySearch International; and Dana King, a Church member and Jackson’s friend.

Jackson said what stood out to her from the lunch was “that we all still have the same desires and the same needs. That we all would like to see not only reconciliation, but understanding of each other.”

Reed, who specializes in African American genealogy, added that Jackson is a particularly appropriate choice of speaker for this year’s RootsTech conference, which is themed “Remember.” Jackson has done the work of ensuring that Dred and Harriet Scott’s legacy isn’t forgotten, Reed said, and he suspects her story will elicit everything from laughter to tears.

“We think [her] story is going to resonate with the thousands that will be in attendance on Friday, so ... come on Friday. Listen to what she has to say,” Reed said. “[If you] can’t make it in person, watch it online, because it will be impactful.”

For her part, Jackson said she’s “honored” to speak at RootsTech.

“I’m always happy to share [my story],” she said, “and it’s quite a privilege to have such a large and engaged audience to share it with.”

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