South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s choice of freshman Congressman Tim Scott to replace Sen. Jim DeMint was a milestone along the road of racial progress so significant that it is worth pausing just to savor.
A conservative freshman elected two years ago with the support of small-government Tea Party enthusiasts, Scott becomes the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction — and he is now the only black Republican in either house of Congress. He’s a great story, as we say in journalism, as is Nikki Randhawa Haley, the female governor whose parents are Sikh immigrants from Punjab state in India.
What makes Haley’s appointment of Scott most extraordinary is not only that it occurred in the Deep South, but that it took place in South Carolina. To those who lived through the civil rights era, the iconic battlefields were located in Alabama and Mississippi. But in an earlier time the tom-toms of the Old Confederacy beat the loudest in the Palmetto State.
It was neither an accident nor happenstance that the Civil War broke out in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union. Among the political class, including its congressional delegation, South Carolina was where racism burned brightest, where the skeletons of Jim Crow were buried the deepest, and where the ghosts of slavery have taken the longest to exorcise.