PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — During this Black History Month, 10 On Your Side is focused on the hidden history of those who have made a difference in our community, our country and the world.
Congressman Bobby Scott has been a political leader of Virginia for more than 40 years.
Scott is only the second African-American elected to Congress from Virginia. He has worked hard to improve the education system and to reform the criminal justice system.
Robert C. Scott, better known as Bobby, was born April 30, 1947 to Dr. C. Waldo and Mae Scott in Washington, DC. A short time later, Newport News became his family’s home. It was a home full of love where education was a big focus.
“My father was on the school board, my mother was a school teacher, and there was no question that all of the children were going to go to college.”
In 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional through Brown Vs. Board of Education, Bobby’s parents knew they had an important decision to make as Virginia responded with mass resistance.
“Rather than integrate the schools, they filed to close the schools, and Newport News was expected to close and so I ended up in High School in Massachusetts.”
He thrived there. Bobby Scott finished high school and graduated from Harvard and Boston College Law School all while serving in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. In 1973, he returned to Newport News to work as a lawyer. He never let the subject of race deter him from reaching his goals of helping people.
“We’ve been making progress in Virginia for a long time. Race stopped really being a barrier in the probably mid-70s.”
While working as an attorney, Scott became active in civic organizations. It was then that he had a life-changing revelation.
“It just seemed to me that everything we wanted to get done, had to get done eventually by people in elected office and rather than ask people to do things for you, for me, I just decided to run myself.”
In 1977 Bobby Scott ran for the Virginia House of Delegates and won.
“When I ran for the House of Delegates, it was apparent people could run and be judged by their campaigns and not by their color.”
Scott served as a Delegate for five years and then in the Virginia Senate for ten. In 1993, State Senator Bobby Scott became Congressman Bobby Scott, the first African-American elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Virginia since Reconstruction. Congressman Scott buckled down on working to boost minimum wage, better education for all, and criminal justice reform.
“When a young person thinks that joining a gang is his best choice, then that’s not his problem. That’s society’s problem,” says Scott. “(Criminal justice reform) is something you can actually do something about. The criminal justice system has a lot of problems, but the focus ought to be on reducing crime and saving money. There are a lot of initiatives that you can take to reduce crime and save money, or you can play politics with slogans and sound bites and get nothing done, waste the tax payers’ money.”
Congressman Scott created the Youth Promise Act as part of his promise to help reform the criminal justice.
“If you get people on a trajectory, on a good trajectory, they’ll never get in trouble to begin with. The investments you need to make to get young people on a trajectory away from gangs, into college and career, that they are much less likely to commit crimes and the money you save in incarceration is generally more than you spend. We’re at a point now in incarceration, studies have shown that we have so many people in jail today that we’re adding to crime. We’ve got too many children being raised by parents in prison. That’s not a good sign. You’ve got so many people with felony records who can’t find jobs. That’s not good.”
The Congressman says he also has concerns about education, specifically where segregation is concerned.
“The unfortunate fact of the matter now is that recent studies have shown that segregated schools by race and class, income, is actually growing. The schools in recent years are becoming more segregated and this administration doesn’t do anything about it. You’re not going to get a decent education in a segregated setting. That goes back to the founding in Brown. We just have to push harder to make sure we have quality education for everyone.”
This man, who has such a passion for trying to better the lives of everyone around him, remains only the second African-American elected to Congress in Virginia’s history. A portrait of the first, John Mercer Langston, hangs on his wall. While he knows the place he holds in history, Congressman Bobby Scott says, for him, it will never be about race.
“My job is to be a good legislator and that means making life better for everybody.”