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This year, Black voters are expected to account for a quarter of every primary ballot cast. Since 1992, no democratic presidential candidate has won the party’s nomination without a majority of the Black vote. Black women in particular have been called the “backbone” of the Democratic Party. But even with that status, their loyalty often goes unappreciated, with candidates doing little to appeal to the voting bloc.

“African American women have one of the highest voter participation rates of any voting bloc,” Senecal said. “Since the Civil Rights movement and Voting Rights Act became law, we have seen Black women continue to show up and vote in every election.”

Though voter suppression is experienced all around the country, it is an issue intimately known by Black residents in the South—that’s why organizers are working to make sure voters are prepared for the worst case scenario.

“We have to be more thoughtful about being prepared for [voter suppression],” said DeJuana Thompson, the founder of Woke Vote, an organization that engages and mobilizes young African American voters in Alabama. “If you register somebody to vote three weeks before an election, they don’t know anything about voter suppression, so they don’t even know that they’re being targeted when they walk in.”

Thompson was one of the lead organizers during the high-profile 2017 Alabama Senate special election between Doug Jones and Roy Moore. Black women are directly credited with the victory of Jones, who became the state’s first democratic senator in 25 years. Exit polls showed that 98% of Black women and 93% of Black men supported Jones. Though the victory sent shockwaves around the country, Thompson says she was confident her organization’s strategies would pay off.

“We organized around the idea that people needed to see how powerful their vote actually was and that you can make a difference,” Thompson said. “We did not organize for Doug Jones. We never even said his name. Every time we talked to the community, we talked to them about why it was important to vote and what this vote meant to our own power and liberation.”

Shortly after Jones’s historic election, California Sen. Kamala Harris brought her praise to Twitter, writing, “#BlackWomen helped elect a Democrat to the US Senate in [Alabama] for the first time in more than 20 years. But we need to do more than congratulate them. Let’s address issues that disproportionately affect Black women-like pay disparity, housing [and] under-representation in elected office.”

In addition to the Jones victory, Black women are also credited with rallying people behind Stacey Abrams, the first Black woman in U.S. history to become a gubernatorial candidate for a major party. Abrams has become one of the most prominent leaders against voter suppression. After narrowly losing her race due to documented evidence of voter suppression, she started the organization Fair Fight Action, which has a goal of creating free and fair elections.

Black women also encouraged voter participation and organized around the mayoral election in Montgomery, Alabama in 2019, which resulted in the election of the city’s first-ever Black mayor, Steven Reed.

“Women of color come into organizing from a very unique place,” Thompson said. “I think the difference is that in so many ways, women of color tend to already be the backbone of their families, their communities, their churches, and everything. So they’re going to bring that same energy to the political space.” 

Carolyn Copeland

Carolyn Copeland is a staff reporter and copy editor at Prism. She covers racial justice and culture. Follow her on Twitter @Carolyn_Copes.