“I want to say one of the things that folk got to know me for is that I would stand my ground, both as an African American and as a woman. I was trying to be a person of increase and change for any new folks that were potentially going to follow in our footsteps. Particularly for minority staff arriving on Hill, because the challenges were as much about being African American as it was about being a woman. Then, in terms of being a woman, having to balance that family life with professional life was really, really rough. Then having to prove yourself among, for lack of a better term, the guys was doubly hard. It was both a challenge to the institutional structure and the authority that had been kind of developed, given the history of the institution.”
—Carlottia Scott, April 24, 2018
From 1979 to 1998, Carlottia Scott worked for Congressman Ronald V. Dellums, who represented a district that encompassed Oakland and Berkeley, California. As the daughter of a union member and community organizer, Scott fit in with the district’s activist spirit and became chief of staff of Dellums' office in 1984.
In her interview, Scott reflects on growing up in segregated El Paso, Texas, and her father’s involvement in civil rights and labor organizations. Before moving to Representative Dellums’ office, Scott worked part-time for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and for Congresswoman Cardiss Collins of Illinois. She recalls the atmosphere of the House and Washington, DC, during the 1980s and the support she received from her colleagues as a working mother.
Starting in the early 1970s, Representative Dellums called for comprehensive economic sanctions against the system of apartheid in South Africa. Scott remembers the celebratory moment when one of Dellums’ longstanding anti-apartheid bills passed the House after years of hard work and dedication. In addition, Scott discusses how her responsibilities expanded when Dellums became chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the challenges she faced as an African-American woman in the House, and the importance of women of color in leadership roles.
Carlottia Scott was born in El Paso, Texas, to Florence Broyles Washington and Harvey L. Washington.
She attended the all-black Douglass Grammar and High School, even though it was across town from her home, until El Paso’s school system integrated in 1956. Her mother volunteered at a nearby nursery school and her father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a janitor.
Scott’s father was active in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a black-led railroad workers’ union. Stationed in Texas, he stayed up to date on the news that traveled with workers crisscrossing the nation’s railroad network. He was also one of the presidents of the El Paso chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). At a young age, Scott grew accustomed to meetings and elections in her home.
In 1970, she began her political career as a volunteer on the campaign of California congressional candidate Ronald V. Dellums—an opportunity her father discovered through his union connections. Scott experienced the “grunt work” of campaigning: buying water, fetching supplies, licking envelopes, knocking on doors, and answering phones. After Representative Dellums won the House seat, Scott attended The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, for a degree in political science. She graduated in 1972 and returned to El Paso.
While working as a dental assistant in El Paso, Scott traveled to DC to work for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Foundation each fall. In 1979, she moved permanently, with her three children, to the capital to work for Illinois Congresswoman Cardiss Collins. Soon after, Representative Dellums, by then the chair of the Committee on District of Columbia, hired Scott as a committee staffer. In 1984, she became chief of staff in his Member office.
During her long tenure in the House, Scott continued to work closely with the CBC, developed a new-Member orientation, and became a member in several peace organizations at Dellums’ request. Both she and the Congressman encouraged their staff to engage with current issues of their choosing. For nearly two decades, the office worked tirelessly to pass economic sanctions against South Africa, as part of the anti-apartheid movement. This work culminated in 1986 when Congress overrode a presidential veto to pass the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. Four years later, Scott joined Representative Dellums in welcoming African National Congress President Nelson Mandela to the Capitol.
Congressman Dellums resigned from the House in 1998. Scott’s closest childhood friend, Barbara Lee, succeeded him in Congress. Scott served as Representative Lee’s chief of staff to help establish her House office before retiring from the Hill in 2000. She remains active in political organizations and peace advocacy groups and currently lives in South Carolina.
Congressional Black Caucus Community: Part One
Carlottia Scott describes the working relationships forged among Congressional Black Caucus staff members.
Congressional Black Caucus Community: Part Two
Carlottia Scott remembers the network of working parents that supported each other in the House.
Challenge to the Institutional Structure
Carlottia Scott discusses the obstacles she faced in the House as an African-American woman.
Diversity in the House
Carlottia Scott explains why it is important to have women of color working in the House.
Professional Dress Code
Carlottia Scott remembers how Representative Dellums' leadership roles changed the way she dressed as his chief of staff.
Welcoming Nelson Mandela
Carlottia Scott explains working with the African National Congress (ANC) to coordinate Nelson Mandela's first U.S. visit.