The Power of the Black Vote
“Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his book Why We Can’t Wait. More than three hundred years later, the voice of the black community, once a whisper, has become a thunderous roar through the power of voting. This feat has been most recently exemplified by Doug Jones’ victory in the Alabama senate race.
The road to the polls was long and violent for Blacks across the south post Reconstruction era. A once prosperous time for Black voters soon came to a halt as the age of Jim Crow took hold, predominantly in the south, set to make racial segregation, alienation and degradation the law of the land. These laws affected the daily lives of Black citizens in the United States- from transportation, to education, to available public facilities like restrooms and hospitals.
Some of the strictest segregation laws were enforced in Alabama, making it the perfect stage for some of the most notable moments of the Civil Rights movement- both triumphant and somber.
One such moment of celebration includes the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, which began in 1955 as an effort to desegregate the public transportation system used throughout the city. During the 13-month long effort, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat as part of the peaceful demonstrations, cementing her as an influential figure in the movement. The protests proved successful in June of 1956 when the Supreme Court ruled bus segregation laws to be unconstitutional. The boycott officially ended in November of the same year.
Yet there were occasions of great sorrow that impacted the state of Alabama in the quest for civil rights, such as the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, located in Birmingham. The crime resulted in the deaths of 11-year-old Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley (all aged 14) at the hands of Ku Klux Klan affiliates.
The iconic march from Selma to Montgomery was also a milestone in the fight for equal voting rights. On March 9, 1965, 2,500 were lead by Martin Luther King Jr. himself across the Pettus Bridge (though the walk was not officially completed until March 21st of the same year). Though the march was not without its share of violence, the imagery from the event has stood the test of time.
The laws of Jim Crow heavily affected voting for Blacks during this time. Violence was a very real threat, largely on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan, which terrorized the southern states. For those brave enough to venture to their respective polling stations could be met with poll taxes, a literacy test, and in Mississippi a “grandfather clause”.
Each of these struggles serves to further portray the significance of the win of Democratic Senator Doug Jones, who won with 49.9% of votes. Jones, most notable for prosecuting two of the bombers in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, has become the first Democratic senator to be produced by the state in twenty years.
Jones’ opponent, Republican Roy Moore, heavily identified with conservative ideologies in a staunchly conservative state and had support from both the Republican National Convention and President Donald Trump, who won the state by 28-points during the presidential election. Yet despite being the ideal candidate on paper, Moore’s campaign was downtrodden by allegations of sexual assault against minors. The Republican candidate was also quoted by Los Angeles Times to have said that America was last great during the existence of slavery because “families were strong, our country had a direction.”
With such vastly different candidates, whose platforms were also vastly different regarding the needs of the Black community, the election results were crucial. And Black voters rose to the occasion, proving the power of the Black vote.
Though only 29% of total voters identified as Black, 96% casted their vote for Jones. In a deeper analysis, of the 11% of Black male voters 93% voted for Jones, and Black women who made up 17% of voters supported Jones with 98% of their vote.
By no means did the Black vote exclusively call for Doug Jones’ win, but the amount of support went a long way. What started as whisper grew to become a force to be reckoned with, Black voters continue to find their voice at the polls.