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Speak Right On is a uniquely American love story, about a man who loved his family so much that he could not be stopped in his quest for freedom--not even by the US Supreme Court.

It is also an exceptional invocation of the soul of human dignity, represented in the character of a destitute, illiterate, enslaved man called Dred Scott;

  • to read this book is to explore and expose the roots of racism in this country
  • long before you reach the remarkable, historical ending of this story, you will feel enlightenment and compassion; you will be a better person in this world.

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Book Availability

October 2006
Speak Right On, Dred Scott is published by the Toby Press
October 2008
Rights revert to the author, Mary E. Neighbour
November 2015
Release date for the second edition of this critically acclaimed neo-slave narrative

  • ABA Booklist
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • Publisher's Weekly
  • The Socialist Review Magazine (London)
  • Financial Times (London)
  • GoodReads
  • Armchair Reviews
  • Front Street Review
  • Book Pleasures
  • Reader Views

By Vanessa Bush 

Dred Scott's legal challenge to slavery, reaching the Supreme Court and prompting the infamous ruling that led to civil war, made him the most famous slave in U.S. history. This novel offers . . . an absorbing look at the relationships—voluntary and involuntary—as well as the nuances of slavery that provoke human emotions from nobility and loyalty to greed and selfishness.

One-fourth biography and three-fourths fiction, Neighbour takes the reader on an incredible journey of dignity, accomplishment, and bonds of the mind, spirit and heart.

Neighbour imagines Scott as a small, quick-witted, storytelling man who speaks in wise aphorisms: "When I think on running, it ain't 'cause I see myself as a slave—it's 'cause I see myself as a man." Scott and his wife, Harriet, petition Emerson's widow (née Sanford), for freedom. Denied, the Scotts use the "once free, always free" doctrine (Scott lived in free states with Emerson) to launch his famous court battle, a legal dispute Neighbour treats with conscientious detail.

By Brian Kelly

Three new novels demonstrate … how different, but more familiar, the early US looks when it is reconfigured with slavery at its centre. In Speak Right On, Mary E. Neighbour builds a poignant, nuanced narrative around the life of Dred Scott…. Following Scott on his forced march across the South, Neighbour illuminates how slavery worked its way into every corner of human relations, constricting the lives of all those it touched … [and] offer[s] powerful renderings of the precariousness of black life in a country committed to slavery … concentrated in the life of Dred Scott.

By John Sutherland 

Four new novels revolve around the American Civil War: The March by E.L. Doctorow, Canaan's Tongue by John Wray, The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant, and Speak Right On by Mary E. Neighbour. Each has a strikingly different take, and each aims to revise or inform received thinking on what the conflict did, or did not do, for the condition of the African-American.… Neighbour's novel purports to be the fictional autobiography of Dred Scott…. [I]n my judgment Neighbour pulls off her portrait of a good, simple, unassuming man who will - for reasons entirely beyond his doing - be forever famous.

By Kathryn Atwood 

Armed with a few biographical facts but plenty of Southern (and African) history, Neighbour has sought to flesh out a portrait of the man behind the ruling and in the process has created a powerfully moving portrayal of the psychology of slavery. [Th]e immorality of slavery wasn't about the quality of life, it was about the basic human craving for freedom and it is this point that Neighbour brilliantly illustrates again and again - in often breathtakingly beautiful prose. "Speak Right On" is a work of such power - at once disturbing and uplifting -- that even if you are familiar with the story's outcome, you absolutely won't be able to put it down.

By Julie Failla Earhart 

I give it a "you gotta read this" nod. It's a fine piece of fiction from well-cared-for slaves point of view that is reminiscent of Toni Morrison. . . . Armchair Interviews says, in Gran's words, "A story! A story! Let it go, let it come."

By Sabrina Williams 

Mary E. Neighbour has picked up where history leaves off … [with] such a skill for breathing life into characters, the reader sees through the eyes of Dred Scott as if reading from Scott's own journal. Had he been literate, Scott himself could have written the book as an autobiography. It is both a celebration of tradition and family, and an outlet of mourning of lost love and freedom.… 

As the book progresses, the author moves back and forth between Scott's words and the elaboration of a narrator. The two flow so smoothly together the reader really doesn't notice the transition between the two. The reader has no trouble at all deciphering the slang and vernacular that would have been used during the time period. It is difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction, which shows that Neighbor has proficiently fused them together to create the image of one man's experiences…. 

The reader is not spared from the injustices slaves endured. Brutal beatings, rapes, and torture are woven in to the chapters as they would have been in Scott's daily life. Neighbour provides some relief in the form of Gran, Scott's grounding force and mentor. … 

The reader will be surprised to find this is Neighbour's debut novel, as the writing style is that of an accomplished author with years of experience and published works. Not surprisingly, her short fiction has won numerous awards. In SPEAK RIGHT ON, she has given voice to an inanimate name in the pages of history. Through her words, the reader becomes privy to the thoughts and emotions of an historical icon. History truly comes alive, thanks to Mary E. Neighbour.

By Sue Vogan 

If there ever was a book that explained what it was like to be torn from your birth land, shipped as if you were a piece of lumber and dropped into an unknown world, Mary Neighbour's novel is at the top of the reading list. If there ever was a victim of slavery that could personally convey what it was like being owned, mastered, beaten and sold, you will find the recounting here in the direct and easy tongue of Dred Scott. …

Mary Neighbour captures details that enables the reader to feel the emotions, hear the whip crack, and touch history as if you were there. The history and traditions depicted in Speak Right On are very different than those we learn from American history books. The tale will, if nothing else, open your eyes and perhaps offer a better understanding of what slavery was really like. In that understanding, there can be hope that this history will never again be repeated.

By Debra Gaynor 

"Speak Right On" by Mary E. Neighbour is one of the finest books ever written. I must admit that I knew little about Dred Scott. The name was vaguely familiar. Neighbour's does an excellent job of depicting the life of the slave. I was brought to tears as I turned the pages. Dred and his family come to life on the pages of this book and I desperately wanted to know what happened. The slang makes it more authentic but was easy to read. Mary Neighbour's plot flows smoothly; this would make an excellent movie. I would never have guessed that this was her first novel. I believe we will hear a lot more from Neighbour. This is a must read and I'm glad I did. 

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The author’s presentation at the Library of Congress, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision
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From the Author

maryAs the author of a novel about Dred Scott, I am interested in conversations about race and social justice and politics--and how the three get scrambled together, in Dred’s time and in ours.

As a reader, I am interested in conversations about illiteracy and education. For my book, I was intrigued by the question of how an illiterate man’s voice reached the US Supreme Court.

Please join me as I blog about these and related topics. I will share how and why I arrived at the character of Dred Scott depicted in the book, and I will continue to draw comparisons between this time and his time. ~ Mary Neighbour