Trump’s War on Black Voters Is Far From Over

Photo illustration; source: Yegor Aleyev/Getty Images

The fate of the U.S. Senate will be decided on January 5 in Georgia when polls close for the two seats up for grabs in a pair of runoff elections, as Democrats Jon Ossof and Raphael Warnock challenge incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively. The results of the elections will determine if Joe Biden gets to install the policies he’s promised and campaigned on or if Mitch McConnell will be empowered to obstruct student loan forgiveness, Covid-19 stimulus checks, health care expansion, and a bevy of other issues that Biden voters are clamoring for. In terms of electoral significance, Georgia is the most important battleground state since Florida in 2000. But unlike Florida during the Bush/Gore saga, the battle for Georgia comes at a moment when the outgoing president is hell-bent on undermining the very nature of the democratic system itself.

While Georgia’s blue flip in the presidential election was cause for the left to celebrate, anyone who knows about voting in the South knows that the next two months will be another fight — one in which America has no rules to play by, especially when it comes to disenfranchising Black voters, who are the key to how the January elections will play out.

I can’t talk to you about the lengths this country goes to stop Black people from voting without talking about the Greenville Food Blockade. And I can’t talk to you about the Greenville Food Blockade without talking to you about an organization called the White Citizens’ Council (WCC).

The WCC was formed in the Mississippi Delta in 1954 in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling (which the organization referred to as “Black Monday”). The WCC was, as the name suggests, dedicated to white supremacy; the group of middle-to-upper-class white people fancied itself a more refined version of the KKK, colloquially identifying themselves as the “uptown Klan.” By the early 1960s, Black Mississippians, with the help of the Council of Federated Organizations, a coalition of all the civil rights organizations in the state, had mobilized voter registration efforts. Many of those registering to vote were sharecroppers living on and cultivating land owned by white men. These sharecroppers were beholden to the whims of the white landowners who could cut off their access to land and a living. The threat of such action loomed over the heads of many economically vulnerable Black people in the Delta, as it was widely known that attempting to register to vote in Mississippi was one of the most dangerous and offensive things a Black person could do. Fannie Lou Hamer, for instance, was kicked off the plantation where she and her husband worked for attempting to register to vote.

Anyone who knows about voting in the South knows that the next two months will be another fight.

But when Black Mississippians pushed on, registering to vote, the WCC wanted to kill the movement before it could take hold. So the group, whose members sat on the board of the state’s Federal Commodities Food Program, voted in 1962 to end its participation in state welfare programs that provided food for low-income, mostly Black residents in Leflore County. These sharecroppers relied on food and cash subsidies to make it from cotton season to cotton season. During the blockade, Black residents were cut off from food and the ability to pay bills and heat their homes during one of the most vicious winters in Mississippi history. Black people froze and starved to death, in addition to falling victim to mob violence. All for wanting to vote.

By the early 1960s, there were 533,000 registered voters in Mississippi. Only 28,000 of them were Black. There were 422,000 Black folks eligible to vote. The voter suppression came in response to Reconstruction, in which Black Mississippians used their power to elect Black politicians across the South. It’s a reminder that anytime Black people utilize their voices to make seismic electoral shifts, a backlash ensues, whether that’s through changing laws or extrajudicial violence.

The story of the Greenville Food Blockade has been heavy on my mind as I think about the American voting landscape from November until January 5, as the national gaze turns to Georgia, where I live. The state has become ground zero for voter suppression and, concurrently, grassroots organization. It’s no coincidence that one of the organizers at the heart of the fight, Stacey Abrams, is from the very same Mississippi that killed, starved, and abused Black people who wanted their voices heard politically. And while Abrams and the many grassroots organizations in Georgia had a tremendous victory of registering some 800,000 disenfranchised voters and flipping the state blue, she also knows all too well just how nasty the fight to eliminate the Black vote can be.

After all, Abrams herself was the victim of one of the most unjust gubernatorial races in recent memory, losing to Brian Kemp, who at the time was the secretary of state in charge of voting. He refused to recuse himself, and he led the charge to purge more than 1 million voter registrations from 2012 to 2018. Abrams ended up losing Georgia by 100,000 votes.

Kemp’s voter suppression tactics are the dark cloud that hangs over the state as we prepare for the runoff elections to determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years. Ossof and Warnock have uphill battles against longtime staple Perdue and Trump loyalist Loeffler. That battle is even more treacherous when considering the possibility of a repeat of 2018.

We’ve already seen Donald Trump take aim at the legitimacy of voting in his election overall, but especially focusing on strongholds that determined major wins for Biden: Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Ostensibly this is about Democratic strongholds in big cities, but the dog whistle here is that these cities are overwhelmingly Black. When Trump and his goons talk about places like Philadelphia being notoriously corrupt, they’re talking about cities that allow Black people to vote in droves. The same is especially true for Atlanta.

While Brian Kemp is, to his credit, playing things straight in Georgia regarding the presidential election by refusing to entertain Trump’s complaints, it’s necessary to be vigilant and maintain a healthy skepticism about his forthrightness when it comes to a continued blue wave in his state. We’re all bracing for whatever diabolical trick of voter suppression he’s going to attempt.

Therein lies the reality of what it’s like to be a Black voter in America, especially in the South, where the bloodlines of starvation and missing bodies of those who simply want to vote run through. Every Black vote in America is an act of resistance and has been the case since the U.S. government passed an amendment that pretended to give us the right. It’s impossible to know the depths to which Brian Kemp, Donald Trump, and any foot soldiers who follow them will stoop to protect their candidates from the reckoning of a powerful Black electorate.

No, I don’t think Georgia officials will try to starve residents to death to secure a majority Senate like the WCC did in Mississippi. But we’ve already seen a criminally corrupt misuse of the U.S. Postal Service to deny sick people the medicine they need, all in the service of suppressing votes and forcing voters to cast in-person ballots in the middle of a pandemic. There is no floor. And utilizing a pandemic during a critical election falls well within the moral compass of groups who wish to silence Black political voices.

I don’t know what obstacles are awaiting Black voters in Georgia between now and January. But I know we’ve seen the worst before, and we will not go quietly into an abyss of political silence without a fight extending to January 5 and beyond.




He taught me about life, perseverance, compassion, optimism, fidelity, and passion. He was one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, yet one of the

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