Fact-Checkers Go After Black Republican Senator for Story of Grandfather Picking Cotton, But They Run Into 1 Big Problem
An attempt by The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” Glenn Kessler into South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s family history completely flopped on Friday, as the award-winning journalist failed to find anything to substantiate his suspicions that the black Republican and his family didn’t really go “from cotton to Congress” after all, as Scott has claimed.
Now, as someone who was raised by progressives in the ’90s, it astounds me that Kessler didn’t stop for one moment and ponder if maybe, just maybe, it would be wildly offensive to fact-check whether the only black Republican senator’s grandfather actually picked cotton but no, this doesn’t seem to have occurred to him for a moment.
The piece is enticingly titled, “Tim Scott often talks about his grandfather and cotton. There’s more to that tale.”
There is more to this tale indeed, as it happens — a great American success story of a hard-working, post-emancipation black family that seems to have done very well for themselves and owned quite a bit of land.
“As regular readers know, we’re often interested in the ‘origin stories’ of politicians — regular lines that they use over and over to explain their political motivations,” Kessler wrote by way of introduction.
“For Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, it’s the story of his grandfather, Artis Ware, who left school at an early age to pick cotton and, according to Scott, never learned to read and write. 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,” he explained.
Scott indeed has referenced his grandfather on more than one occasion, most recently and perhaps famously at the 2020 Republican National Convention during which he noted that his antecedent had “suffered the indignity of being forced out of school as a third-grader to pick cotton, and never learned to read or write. … Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime.”
Now here’s where things got very suspicious, in Kessler’s eyes.
“But Scott separately has acknowledged that his great-great-grandfather, Lawrence Ware, once owned 900 acres in South Carolina,” he noted.
Dun dun duuuuun.
I’m sorry, this is suspicious? That a hard-working, poor, uneducated farmer owned land? Yes, apparently it is.
But unfortunately, thanks to gaps in the census data which is also only released after 72 years, Kessler was not able to find anything to support what he seems to have already decided was true, all the same — that Tim Scott is simply not as rootsy as he claims to be.
He did, astoundingly, manage to lament that “Census data is historically questionable at best — and at times unreliable — when tracking Blacks, particularly in that time in the South where naming practices and lack of vital records require caution in discerning identities.”
Yes, Kessler was unable to undermine a black man’s claims that his grandfather picked cotton because of … racism. Which we’re supposed to believe isn’t the factor motivating this abominable “fact-check.”
What he did manage to find out about the good senator’s family history, it turns out, is one that shows both very genuinely humble roots on his part as well as an impressive story of upward mobility that couldn’t possibly be more American.
This, however, makes Scott’s claims “complex” to Kessler.
“Our research reveals a more complex story than what Scott tells audiences. Scott’s grandfather’s father was also a substantial landowner — and Scott’s grandfather, Artis Ware, worked on that farm,” he writes, having been able to produce ample evidence of a young man who indeed dropped out of school as a boy and worked on his father’s farm, which is consistent with Scott’s telling of his family history.
Kessler explains that this history “offers a fascinating window into a little-known aspect of history in the racist South following the Civil War and in the immediate aftermath of slavery — that some enterprising Black families purchased property as a way to avoid sharecropping and achieve a measure of independence from White-dominated society.”
Kessler’s team discovered that while Lawrence Ware, Scott’s great-grandfather, was unable to read and write, his father, he almost disapprovingly notes, was able to.
“Notwithstanding inconsistencies in the ages listed, we believe we located Lawrence Ware, who was born in 1861, in the 1870 census and the 1880 census. His father, who is listed as not being able to read or write, was a farmer and Lawrence is listed as a field hand in the 1880 census,” he explained.
“When we fast forward to the 1910 census, Lawrence Ware is recorded as owning his [own] farm and a home without a mortgage. He is able to read and write. He and his wife have nine children, including Willie Ware, Scott’s great-grandfather,” the piece continues.
When Artis, or “Ottis” as he’s listed on the 1940 census, appears, Kessler fails to find anything enticing other than he worked on his father’s farm and attended school up to the fourth grade.
“The census suggests Artis ended his education in the fourth grade. Twelve other adults on that census page ended their education in fourth grade, so that may have been a common end point at the time. Artis appears to have been able to sign his name, according to his 1942 World War II draft registration card and home mortgages obtained in 1998 and 2007,” Kessler notes, trying to squeeze anything he can out of these facts to contradict Scott’s telling of his family history.
“This is where the census trail ends. (The 1950 census records will not be released until next year.) But the census indicates Willie Ware owned his own farm, just as his father did before him. And Scott’s grandfather was a worker on his father’s farm,” he is forced to conclude his scrutiny into Artis Ware and his cotton-picking credentials.
This is sheer garbage, and Kessler was well-deserving of the scorching from conservative Twitter he got on Friday afternoon:
Actually, Tim Scott’s grandfather left school to pick cotton, but it was for a family farm that was larger than most, making the back-breaking work much easier than, say, using white privilege to sit at a keyboard and attack a black man and his family for daring to have success. https://t.co/LwYPcIlYP8
— Razor (@hale_razor) April 23, 2021
Owning Tim Scott by pointing out that his ancestors were an unbelievable American success story, buying hundreds of acres despite the crippling legal racism they had to withstand https://t.co/LzdKKkO5c6
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 23, 2021
Racist @GlennKesslerWP whitesplaining to Tim Scott. https://t.co/V6dCcBwd9a
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) April 23, 2021
Tim Scott’s great-great-grandfather owned 900 acres of land, which sounds like a lot until you consider the degree to which Glenn Kessler likes to own himself.
— Vincent Caruso (@vin_jc) April 23, 2021
To finish off his now-smoldering dumpster fire of a fact-check, Kessler informed us that he graciously wouldn’t be rating Scott’s claim, even though he had just dedicated a whole fact-check to trying to weave the impression that might not be entirely true that family went from “cotton to Congress” in a generation and at best, he concluded, it is a “nuanced” claim.
I don’t really see what the nuance, as clearly Scott had farming ancestors and is now a member of the U.S. Congress. He and his family tell a great American success story that we should all be able to celebrate, but instead, we’re reading deeply racist partisan propagandizing disguised as ethical journalism in major establishment publications.
To call this “shameful” would be incredibly generous to Kessler, and to the dismal state of American racial politics.
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