Black Voices in Politics: U.S. Senator Tim Scott
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
By: Faith Brammer
The only Black Republican to serve in the US Senate, Senator Tim Scott grew up in a lower-class, single parent household in North Charleston, South Carolina. He grew up watching his mother work long hours just to keep a roof over their heads, doing whatever it took to keep them afloat. Freshman year of high school, Scott failed four classes and flunked the grade. He was given two options: Repeat the grade or attend summer school. In an interview with Politico magazine, he said that his mother told him he was going to summer school and that he had to find a way to pay the $265 fee himself. His sophomore year, academics improved but it wasn’t until junior year that Scott found a sense of direction for the way he wanted his life to go.
Scott had been planning to go to college on a football scholarship in hopes of joining the NFL so that he could support his mother. His athletic career was promising, but the summer before his senior year, he fell asleep at the wheel and suffered serious injuries from the crash. He missed most of the football season and offers from many schools. He accepted an offer from Presbyterian University in Clinton, South Carolina, where he had to adjust to being one of the few black students on a campus of 1,200. Scott converted to Christianity fall of his freshman year-- and quit the football team. “Football was my god,” he explains, “and you can’t have two of them.” He thought about entering the clergy, but instead decided to transfer to Baptist College (now Charleston Southern) and pursued his interest in business and politics.
After working at an insurance agency after graduating college, Scott started looking to enter into the political world. He had always been unsure of his political leaning and originally wanted to run for an empty Democratic seat on the Charleston City Council but was rejected. Following that rejection, he went to the GOP and was given the opportunity to run. It was then that Scott decided he was a Republican. Scott says that, “Access to opportunity is my No. 1 issue. It doesn’t really matter what your title is; your mission is the same.” Scott served on the city council for thirteen years, popular among both the people and his peers.
“It was interesting that he was an African-American Republican, but you know, he didn’t approach his job on the county council in a partisan manner,” says former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a Democrat. “He was very well-liked on the council and enormously popular in the community. He was easy to work with and easy to like. And it seemed we were usually on the same side of issues.”
As the years went on, Scott took the Republican side on most issues, but advocated for measures like removing the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol.
In 2010, Scott ran against Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, for the US House of Representatives and won, becoming the first black Republican nominee for a House seat from the South since Reconstruction. In 2013, he was elected to the US Senate.
Scott’s primary focus has always been on issues like tax reform, education and workplace development. In 2017, with the backing of President Donald Trump, he founded the initiative Opportunity Zones, which he describes as a bipartisan initiative that seeks to offer tax breaks to lower income areas of America. He’s never wanted his race to become a part of his political identity. In his Politico interview, Scott claimed that,
“I can’t tell you how the most racially insensitive people I have encountered are white liberals who are stunned and dismayed that there can be someone who looks like me who doesn’t fit their mold. The Democrats want to use my color against the Republican Party. And the Republicans want to emphasize my complexion in ways that say that we are not a party that is bigoted.”
Scott endorsed Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 election. In an interview with ABC News, Scott claimed that Trump had done more for race relations than anyone else in his lifetime. At the 2020 Republican National Convention Scott said that, “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime, and that’s why I believe the next American century can be better than the last,” preaching his platform of progress and promise.
However, with racial tensions rising over the past few years, Scott has been more vocal on issues related to race. In 2015, after the shooting at Emanuel AME Church, he proposed a bipartisan police reform bill, the JUSTICE ACT, that was rejected. When the partisan George Floyd in Policing Act was proposed in 2020, Scott voiced his disappointment. He claimed that the bills overlapped on many issues and that he took issue with a policy being preferred to a bipartisan bill, as it maintains a divide. Referring to the new policy, Scott said, “I hope my friends on the other side of the aisle will come to the table to find common ground where we can make meaningful changes that will bring us closer to the goal of a more just country.”
Having suffered racial profiling numerous times at Capitol Hill, Scott explains that he has “felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you are being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself” in an interview with The Washington Post. Trump’s racially insensitive comments led to Scott declaring his words indefensible. The public chagrin led Trump to invite Scott to the Oval Office, where he educated him on the history of hate groups in America.
On multiple occasions, Scott has expressed a dislike for politics on the national level and has confirmed that his race for the 2022 Senate will be his last. Scott holds to the American dream and to the traditional values he believes shaped this nation while still looking to a more equitable world.
"God made me black on purpose. For a specific reason. It has helped me to help others who have been locked out of opportunity in many ways.”