On Wednesday, January 10, Virginia’s House of Delegates witnessed the swearing-in of its first Black speaker in a history spanning 405 years. Del. Don Scott broke barriers and shattered historical precedents as he assumed the role of speaker, marking a significant milestone for both the state and the nation.
Scott’s journey to this historic position is anything but conventional. A graduate of LSU Law School and a Navy veteran, Scott faced a turning point when he encountered legal troubles that resulted in a federal prison sentence. Serving seven years behind bars for drug-related charges, he emerged from incarceration with a determination to reshape his life and contribute meaningfully to society.
Upon relocating to Virginia, Scott embarked on a remarkable journey through the corporate world, climbing the ranks before eventually returning to his legal roots by passing the bar exam. His personal experience with the criminal justice system fueled a passion for reform, leading him to work as a criminal defense attorney. In a 2018 interview with The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, Scott shared insights into his motivation, stating, “Jail really sucks the blood from you. That’s why I fight.”
An integral part of Scott’s narrative is his decision to keep his criminal record private until he chose to disclose it during his foray into politics. Defying the stigma associated with his past, he emphasized, “I’m not going to be defined by that one day.” Scott secured his first electoral victory in 2019, setting the stage for his subsequent ascent to the position of the Speaker of the House.
The Virginia General Assembly, as the oldest English-speaking legislative body in America, witnessed a historic moment as Scott assumed the speakership. Speaking at the Statehouse on the day of his inauguration, Scott underscored the significance of the occasion, stating, “It is an honor and privilege to be elected as the first Black speaker of the House of Delegates, 405 years” after its founding. Notably, he acknowledged the parallel between this historical moment and the arrival of the first enslaved people in the region.
As Scott stood in the Statehouse, a building erected by the hands of enslaved individuals, he reflected on the ghosts of the past. “I look around this room, I see the ghosts of the people who worked here, the Black people whose dignity was not recognized in this room,” he remarked. “We carry their hopes and dreams and posterity. I carry it in my heart. All the people who never got their rights heard. Thank God the commonwealth has turned the page.”
Del. Don Scott’s journey from a troubled past to the highest office in the Virginia House of Delegates serves as a testament to resilience, redemption, and the transformative power of second chances. His historic election marks not only a personal triumph but also a symbolic victory for progress and inclusivity in the state’s political landscape.