Why black women voters showed up for Doug Jones

Image: Democratic Senate Candidate Doug Jones Holds Election Night Watch Party In Birmingham
Supporters of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones celebrate as Jones is declared the apparent winner during his election night party Tuesday in Birmingham, Alabama.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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By Chandelis R. Duster and Foluké Tuakli

For the first time in 25 years, Alabama elected a Democrat to the Senate and many say African-American women are to thank for that.

Democrat Doug Jones' win over Republican Roy Moore was a stunning upset in a contentious and closely watched election for the deep-red state. Even more surprising for some was the high voter turnout of African-Americans. NBC News exit polls show 96 percent of black voters supported Jones, with 98 percent of black women and 93 percent of black men backing him.

One of the factors that motivated black women to vote in this election was the protection of their communities, said DeJuana Thompson, co-founder of Think Rubix, a strategy firm.

“When you have rhetoric coming out about possible pedophilia, and when you’ve got rhetoric coming out about slashing critical resources to education and the programs that help sustain homes in the African-American community, black women are always going to show up for their communities,” Thompson said. “When black women show up for their community, every other community is empowered.”

On Twitter Wednesday, #BlackWomen was trending, with people hailing them as true winners of the election.

The support of prominent figures such as former NBA player Charles Barkley helped ignite voter turnout in favor of the Democrat. Jones also got a boost from African-American lawmakers, including Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who campaigned for Jones and amplified the specific need for a black voter turnout.

Two days before the election, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker went down to Alabama to campaign for Jones. And former President Barack Obama recorded robocalls that went out to Alabama voters.

Thompson, who is a native of Birmingham and served as senior adviser for public engagement for the U.S. Small Business Administration under Obama, said that while black women are the heroes of this election, black men should get credit too.

Many of whom, she said, were voting in opposition to not only Moore's rhetoric, but also views expressed by President Donald Trump. They were also “motivated about organizing black power,” Thompson said.

“People were standing up in the spirit of our ancestral history and said, ‘You’re not going to come up in Alabama 50 or 60 years after Jim Crow and still try to pull the same kind of play when we were fighting for our rights in the ‘60s,’” she said. “People tapped into the spirit of our ancestry and said, ‘This is our opportunity to stand up and boycott. This is our Selma, our Jubilee Bridge.’ It’s not the '60s, but it’s no less powerful in the way we protest and we protested with our vote this time.”

"This is our Selma, our Jubilee Bridge. It’s not the '60s, but it’s no less powerful in the way we protest and we protested with our vote this time."

Through Woke Vote, a program Thompson founded to get millennials out to vote, she went to historically black colleges and universities and churches across the state to mobilize students and black women to vote.

Alabama chapters of the NAACP also called voters and went door-to-door encouraging African-Americans to go to the polls. Through a text message campaign, the organization said it reached more than 160,000 African-Americans across the state and that 90 percent of the people reached said they would vote.

NAACP Alabama State President Benard Simelton said he knew it would be hard to mobilize voters, but that the black vote would be crucial.

Those of us who know the history of Alabama with its Jim Crow and segregationist attitude, understand the importance of the vote.

“Those of us who know the history of Alabama with its Jim Crow and segregationist attitude, understand the importance of the vote and why, not only have we got to ensure that we use it, but that we continue to protect it from any attempts at suppression,” he said in a statement.

Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, who represents District 53 in Madison County and joined Jones at a campaign stop, said he is proud and appreciative of the role African-Americans, especially women, played in this election. He said the Democratic Party should focus more on black women.

“If you focus on African-American women you will bring along the men. The key factor is African-American women are influencers in our communities and in our households. And as men, we listen to our wives and we listen to our daughters,” he said.

Jones won Madison County by 57 percent — compared to the 2016 election when Trump won the county by nearly 54 percent. Daniels said the message sent by voters in this election shows their frustration with the lack of progress and that they wanted to see results.

“We’re not interested in the insults. We’re not interested in the divisiveness,” he said. “We want to be able to move forward. The Huntsville community is a very, highly educated community. We want someone who is truly going to represent our interests. The people said, ‘Doug Jones represents our interests.'”

Although black women helped carry Jones to victory, Thompson said, the race was too close for a campaign involving a controversial candidate like Moore. Black people still have a long way to go and the work doesn’t stop with electing Jones.

“We can’t sleep. We really have to stay woke. It’s not a cliche anymore, it’s a reality," she said. "We gotta be ready for the long game.”

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