A native of Houston, Texas, Emmett J. Scott garnered a reputation as Booker T. Washington’s chief aide. He was also the highest ranking African American in the Woodrow Wilson’s Administration. The son of ex-slaves, Scott was born on February 13, 1873 to formerly enslaved parents Horace Lacy Scott and Emma Kyle. In 1887, Scott entered Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, eventually leaving school in his third year. Soon he worked at the Houston Post, first as a sexton, and later as a copy boy and journalist. In 1893 Scott, along with Charles N. Love and Jack Tibbit, formed the Texas Freeman, Houston’s first African American newspaper. Scott also worked for Galveston, Texas, politician and labor leader, Norris W. Cuney.
Scott caught the attention of Booker T. Washington, who hired him in 1897. For the next eighteen years, Scott served Washington as a confidant, personal secretary, speech writer, and ghostwriter; in 1912, he became Tuskegee’s treasurer-secretary. Scott advocated Washington’s philosophy of constructive accommodation over immediate social integration. Scott and New York Age editor T. Thomas Fortune helped Washington found the National Negro Business League (NNBL) in 1900.
In 1917, two years after Washington’s death, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Scott special advisor of black affairs to Secretary of War Newton Baker. Scott wrote reports on conditions facing African Americans during the period, which were published as The American Negro in the World War (1919) and Negro Migration during the First World War (1920).
From 1919 to 1932, Scott was the business manager and secretary treasurer of Howard University, retiring from the college in 1938. During World War II, Scott worked for the Sun Shipbuilding Company of Chester, Pennsylvania, and helped the company create Yard No. 4 for black laborers. Scott was married and had five children, all of whom graduated from college. He and his wife also raised his five younger sisters, who also earned their degrees.
Emmett J. Scott, a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, died in Washington, D.C., in 1957 at the age of 84.