Georgia's Rural Black Voters were Ignored and Suppressed. Now they Might Flip the SenateBreaking News
tags: African American history, Georgia, voting rights
Since the November election, attention has been rightfully paid to the role of Black voters — and Black organizers — in flipping Georgia for President-elect Joe Biden. This attention is warranted, and long overdue, but often overlooked is the role of rural Black voters in particular. After decades of political neglect, emboldened rural Georgian voters are turning out in droves and forcing themselves into the political conversation. Rural Black voters played a central role in helping Biden win Georgia, and now have the chance to decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.
People tend to see Georgia as made up of Atlanta and Not Atlanta, with a lot of Democratic (Black) voters in urban Atlanta and heavily Republican (white) voters in the rural rest of the state — and when people hear “rural,” they almost always think “white.” But that’s just not what Georgia is like. A third of rural Georgians are people of color and one in four voters outside the Atlanta metro area are Black. In fact, most of the 20 majority-Black counties in Georgia are in rural areas — including Washington County, where I grew up.
Being overlooked and excluded from politics is not new for Black rural Georgians. I saw this firsthand growing up. Politicians ignored us, so we ignored them. They rarely came to our communities or tried to earn our votes. And so many of us didn’t vote. People usually wouldn’t even talk about it and if they did, the mentality was always: “Man, those folks gonna do what they gonna do anyway.”
Growing up, we were victims of decades of voter suppression. The legacy of the Jim Crow laws that disenfranchised my grandparents’ generation did not fade quickly. In many ways, it was passed on down to my own generation. In small towns especially, there was even a fear of what would happen to you if you did vote. We were conditioned to believe that our votes did not matter and that nothing would ever change. Between the fear and the feeling of hopelessness in voting, many Black rural Georgians didn’t vote.
Despite this deep history of disenfranchisement, Black rural Georgians delivered the state for Biden. So what has changed?
While it did not start in 2018, Stacey Abrams’ near-win that year showed the country that Georgia is purple, and it showed rural Georgians their political power. Abrams went all across the state, including to rural areas like where I grew up. She showed rural Georgians that they could make a difference and be heard by their leaders. Rural Black voters saw that Georgia was winnable for Democrats and that they could be a part of it.
Black Georgians have come out and said we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The COVID pandemic only heightened this feeling. Between painful job losses and disproportionate death rates among Black rural Georgians, voters were willing to put everything on the line to vote, even if that meant putting themselves at risk during a pandemic. The same Georgians who grew up fearing what would happen if they cast a ballot, are now scared of what could happen if they don’t.
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