'If Past Is Prologue': Toward the Development of a New 'Freedom Suit' for the Remediation of Foster Care Disproportionalities Among African-American Children
Posted: 31 Oct 2015 Last revised: 24 Nov 2015
Date Written: February 28, 2015
Under the “peculiar institution” of American chattel slavery, the enslaved family found itself at the mercy of economic forces that threatened forever to shatter precious familial bonds and ties of kinship. The dire circumstances under which these families lived have been well-documented. However, as the United States began its westward expansion during the early nineteenth century, these circumstances were both punctuated and elucidated by hope born of the rule of law. A ray of light emanated from approximately three hundred slave “freedom suits” suits brought in the courts of the state of Missouri. Perhaps the best known s of these “freedom suits” was the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford. These cases, filed between 1840 and 1861, were based upon a statute providing enslaved persons with what may have been unprecedented access to the courts. Twenty-three of these cases were brought by enslaved mothers who, once having gained their own freedom, subsequently returned to court to petition for the freedom of their enslaved children based upon the legal doctrine of partus sequitur ventrem. These women were mothers who had lost or feared losing “custody” of their children through slave trading as families were separated by cruel commercial practices that had no regard for the sanctity of familial unity. Through these suits they were able, in some instances, to restore their children to their families. The “freedom suit” statute that provided the statutory basis for these causes of action and the specific procedural requirements contained therein may provide inspiration for recommendations with implications for the present day.
Keywords: slavery; freedom suit; foster care; African-Americans; children
JEL Classification: K00; K2; K10; K11; K12; K13; K14; K19; K4; K20; K41; K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation