Washington Post Fact Checkers Expose Truth About Tim Scott's Black Privilege in Triumph of Accountability Journalism

April 23, 2021

If Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) was a Democrat, he'd be one of the most celebrated politicians in the country. Raised in poverty by a single mother, he would go on to become the first black politician to represent a southern state in the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction. Pretty impressive for someone whose grandfather dropped out of elementary school to pick cotton on the family farm.

Or is it? 

Fans of accountability will be delighted to know the Washington Post truth squad is on the case. "The tale of his grandfather fits in with a narrative of Scott moving up from humble circumstances to reach a position of political power in the U.S. Senate," writes Glenn Kessler, the Post's executive fact checker.

The ensuing fact check suggests, or attempts to suggest, that Scott's grandfather might not have grown up in such humble circumstances after all and was just another privileged black kid living the high life in South Carolina during the Great Depression.

The Post's investigation of Scott's grandfather, Artis Ware, was "aided" by a number of experts, including Carmen Harris, a history professor at the University of South Carolina-Upstate and a Democratic Party donor. Spencer Wood of Kansas State University is also quoted in the piece. He's a Democratic donor as well.

The so-called evidence marshaled to undermine Scott's claim—that his grandfather dropped out of elementary school, unable to read or write, to work on a cotton farm—is embarrassingly sparse. For example, documents show that Scott's great-grandfather, Willie Ware, could read and write, and worked for his father, Lawrence, on the family farm. Lawrence purchased at least 170 acres of farmland in the early 1900s, which reeks of privilege.

Willie, like his father, went on to become a privileged black farmer. He owned a home worth $10,000 in today's dollars, according to journalism. He had a son named Artis, who worked on the farm and attended elementary school until the fourth grade. "This is where the census trail ends," Kessler writes, ominously.

In other words, Scott's story is full of holes. Fourth grade "may have been a common end point" for children at the time, Kessler notes, and Artis might have been able to sign his own name. The family continued to purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of farmland in the 1930s and 1940s. Kessler writes, ominously once again, that "most black people acquired land because they knew or were related to the white landowner who sold it to them."

Kessler concedes toward the end of the piece that census and property records "may not entirely show what life was like for black farmers in South Carolina as cotton prices plunged" during the Great Depression, but that doesn't stop him from arriving at a conclusion. Scott's version of his family history lacks "nuance" and should not be seen as anything more than a "tidy story packaged for political consumption."

For the sake of context: Kessler is the great-grandson of Jean Baptiste August Kessler (managing director of Royal Dutch Shell), the grandson of Geldolph Adriaan Kessler (soccer player turned steel magnate), and the son of Adriaan Kessler (associate director at Procter & Gamble).

Democracy dies in darkness.