WASHINGTON — History is not lost on U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.
“It’s a dark hour in race relations for America,” the South Carolina Republican said on the Senate floor Thursday. “But I bring you hope, real hope: In the Deep South, with a provocative racial history, the voters of the 1st Congressional District of South Carolina — a heavily white district, the home of the birthplace of the Civil War — elected the grandson of a man who picked cotton.
“I want to say that one more time,” Scott said. “In the heart of the South, the home of the Civil War, a majority white district elected the grandson of a man who picked cotton over the children of the former United States senator and presidential candidate Strom Thurmond, and a very popular governor.”
That grandson, of course, is Scott.
This was the final installment in the three-part series of floor speeches he delivered in response to the week of fatal and tragic confrontations between the black community and law enforcement officials, episodes that left Scott reeling in “pain and agony,” he said, creating a sense that he had to do something.
Scott’s first speech on Monday focused on the heroism of police officers, despite the targeted misconduct of some in the force. Scott expanded on that point in his speech Wednesday, which offered a searing personal account of his own experiences as a black man being targeted by law enforcement in incidents of racial profiling, even while a member of Congress.
Video footage of that second speech has gone viral, with fellow lawmakers taking to social media to praise Scott for his candid remarks and thanking him for drawing a different perspective to their attention.
Part of their fascination has to do with the fact that Scott is a member of a party that lacks diversity. Americans, let alone politicians, aren’t used to hearing a black Republican speak openly, honestly and critically about the challenges men and women face because of the color of their skin. One reason for that is, there aren’t many of them. There are only three black Republicans currently serving on Capitol Hill, including Scott. In the entire U.S. Senate, it’s only Scott and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker. Some black Republicans choose not to discuss their own experiences in public, aware of the scrutiny they face as the minorities in the GOP.
But Scott frequently draws from his personal narrative — the child of a single parent growing up in poverty in North Charleston — to give context to his legislative proposals and political actions.
In this third speech, he laid out solutions to mend the rifts between law enforcement and civilians. He has sponsored a bill to equip police officers with body cameras, and also a measure that would improve the FBI’s ability to track police-related shootings. The latter bill is named for Walter Scott, the black man shot and killed last year by a police officer during a traffic stop in Scott’s home town. They are not related.
Scott also spoke about his “Opportunity Agenda,” a series of bills aimed at helping children go to better schools, young people get job training and distressed communities experience economic growth in their backyards.
He acknowledged that the solutions to healing what he called the “American family” wouldn’t come from Congress.
“The government cannot make us get along,” he said. Instead, Americans would have to do better, be kinder and listen with “their heads and their hearts.”
He said he believed it could be done.
“I am hopeful, because I have experienced the power of a state that has been transformed. The great state of South Carolina,” Scott said. “So to my American family, please remain optimistic.”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.