Virginia Del. Don Scott Jr. is now the state’s first Black speaker of the House of Delegates in its 405 history. Before his current status, Scott, who represents a district that includes Portsmouth, had been the minority leader before Democrats took control of the House in last year’s election.
Scott’s personal history includes an arrest for drugs and a federal prison sentence before law practice. After graduating from LSU Law School, he served in the Navy and was convicted of federal drug charges, serving seven years in prison; although he believes the sentence was disproportionate to his crime, according to NBC News.
“I made the dreadful mistake of going to pick up some money, some drug money,” he said. According to him, before his prison sentence, he had never been in any trouble. “I remember my mother in the courtroom. I can hear the little yelp that she made when a judge said 10 years. I still hear that sometimes,” Scott added.
From prison, he moved to Virginia and ventured into the corporate world. He would rise through corporate America before taking the bar exam to become an attorney. As a criminal defense attorney, his experience in prison inspired him to help reform prison systems.
“Jail sucks the blood from you,” he said in an interview with The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2018. “That’s why I fight.”
He reportedly kept his jail record private until he was running for office. The Portsmouth Democrat was first elected to the chamber in 2019 and unanimously chosen by his party to be speaker in November.
In a short address after he was sworn in as speaker on Wednesday, Scott said it was “an honor and privilege to be elected as the first Black speaker of the House of Delegates, 405 years” after its founding and, “coincidentally, 405 years after the first enslaved people who arrived here not far from here.”
“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 said, looking around the Statehouse, a building built by slaves. “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.”
Scott grew up in Texas and he is one of six children raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet.
“Scott remembers meals of mayonnaise sandwiches and long hours at the local library, which his mother leaned on for free childcare. The young Scott turned into a voracious reader, which he says contributed to him going to college,” according to NPR.