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Honoring Charles E. Scott.

The proposal to have a portrait of Charles E. Scott mounted in Worcester's City Hall, along with the pictures of former mayors and other Worcester bigwigs, calls to mind a notable public figure and an interesting political era.

Worcester has never had a large African-American population, and has not produced a significant number of black notables. A monument to Major Taylor, the famed world champion bicyclist a century ago, stands at the entrance to the Worcester Public Library, but otherwise the city lacks any memorial or recognition of the African-American contribution to our community.

Some reminder of Charles E. Scott and his achievement is overdue. But surely something more appropriate and visible than another picture in City Hall.

Whether a plaque, a statue or whatnot, a memorial to Charles E. Scott requires some thought, planning, publicity and enthusiasm. A community effort, as was done for the Major Taylor monument. Perhaps the newly revitalized NAACP could take the lead.

Mr. Scott served on the City Council from 1918 to 1921 and again from 1926 to 1938, almost a record. He was the last African-American on the City Council until Stacey Luster in 1997.

He was perennially popular in his mostly white district. From first to last he was a staunch and eloquent opponent of bigotry in any form.

One notable occasion was when Eamon de Valera, the prominent Irish leader, came to Worcester and was snubbed by a majority of the City Council.

Councilor Scott "leaped to his feet'' according to one account, and excoriated the anti-de Valera councilors.

"It hardly seems possible,'' he declaimed, "that members of the board, elected to represent and protect the people of our city, would bring personal feeling into a matter as this. The 1920 Council should not begin the year with any tendency toward narrowness.''

He felt a bond with the oppressed Irish. As a black man, he was only too familiar with bigotry in its many forms. "I know how my race has been oppressed,'' he said. "The Irish have reason to be proud, and we should be proud of them.''

As a longtime employee of Holy Cross College, he probably heard plenty about the "Troubles'' in Erin. He urged the City Council to give an official welcome to de Valera, but that was the era when there was a lot of negative feeling about the Irish and their politics, and the Council voted, 13 to 8, not to do so.

Councilor Scott was a proud black man, proud of his race and well versed in its history. He once gave the Council a disquisition on distinguished African-Americans, including Booker T. Washington, U.S. District Attorney William H. Lewis, Crispus Attucks (killed during the Boston Massacre), and Peter Salem, the longtime resident of Leicester who had fought at Bunker Hill.

The Council also heard about Toussaint L'Ouverture, one of Mr. Scott's great heroes. He was the former coachman who became the "George Washington of Haiti'' in his struggle to end slavery on that island.

Had he not been betrayed and imprisoned by Napoleon Bonaparte, the history of Haiti might not have turned out so bloody and dismal.

Scott came to prominence at a time when there was no significant civil rights movement in regard to African-Americans. Women suffrage was all the rage, with demonstrations, marches, police brutality and speeches. That culminated in 1919 with the 19th Amendment.

But it also was a time of lynchings, Jim Crow laws and "separate-but-equal'' court rulings.

It would be interesting to know what Charles Scott thought about things like that.

If he is going to be honored by this city, it should be an educational experience. There probably is lots of interesting material somewhere -- letters, notebooks, diaries -- that can shed light on his background and his thinking. We know too little about him.

But we do know enough to see him as a significant figure in Worcester history. Worcester, for all its Abolitionist history, has never had a large black population. But it always has had some. It is important that we not forget those individuals who made a mark on their times.

Albert B. Southwick's column appears regularly in the Telegram & Gazette.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 9, 2014
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