A few years ago, when Alabama Democrat Doug Jones narrowly won a U.S. Senate seat, there were more than a few news headlines suggesting that Black women, almost out of the blue, had become inspired to ramp up their organizing efforts to help deliver Jones the victory.
Truth is, though, it’s always been Southern Black women doing the in-the-trenches work of grassroots organizing in this country — from abolition to civil rights to women’s equality.
But a lot of that work has often gone uncredited. Until now.
“Certainly one thing that is very different about our current moment is that Black women are really front-and-center in the continued battle for voting rights or voter turnout. And, really, (they) just are not asking for but demanding the power that they have earned and deserve for their decades and generations of work in this country on behalf of our democracy,” said Errin Haines, editor-at-large at The 19th*, a nonprofit newsroom that covers politics, policy and gender.
An Atlanta-area native, Errin joined us this week to talk about the role of Black women in American civil-rights movements, enthusiasm among younger voters, the need for voter education and anxiety over vote suppression amid the coronavirus pandemic.
You can listen to the whole episode here. And check out highlights from our conversation with South Carolina historian Marjorie Spruill here.
In the meantime, go ahead and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Acast or wherever else you get your podcasts to stay informed about the South this election season.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation with Errin, which we recorded before U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, became former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate. They’ve been lightly edited for clarity and length:
Errin Haines on Black women doing movement work, often uncredited
White women actually were very divisive in the suffrage movement, advocating, really, for the right to vote for themselves at the expense of Black women. So you had champions like Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell. These women were also absolutely suffragettes, but their work had to continue even beyond 1920 because white women were not really equal partners in bringing them along.
Black women have been the vanguard of our democracy for generations — even before we had freedom, even before we had the right to vote. We were trying to do the work of perfecting this democracy. Yet we were not always given credit for that. You had women during suffrage, during the Civil Rights Movement who were doing a lot of things — work — and who were not credited for it. Certainly one thing that is very different about our current moment is that Black women are really front-and-center in the continued battle for voting rights or voter turnout. And, really, just are not asking for but demanding the power that they have earned and that they deserve for their decades and generations of work in this country on behalf of our democracy.
Most of the Black women mayors in this country are in major cities across the South. I don’t think that’s an accident you had Kamala Harris as a formidable 2020 Democratic presidential candidate — the lone black woman in that race — and you now have half a dozen Black women in the conversation to be the next vice president, possibly, of the United States. That doesn’t happen without the consistent and disciplined efforts of black women in our politics in America.
Errin Haines on enthusiasm among young voters
We’re seeing polling saying that young folks are very, very interested in this election and yet have no idea how they’re going to participate in this election, given that it’s a pandemic, given the process around mail-in voting. They don’t feel like they have enough information to participate in an election that they’re very excited about. You see a lot of Black men also across the South becoming mayors who are younger, who have challenged a status quo. You think about it, just the mayor of Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery alone. Those mayors are all young Black men. I mean, in cities that were sites of the Civil Rights Movement two generations ago. You think about another son of Alabama. John Lewis just passed away last month and, in leaving us, really wanted to pass that torch on to a new generation of Black leadership that does seem ready to kind of take that mantle if this national reckoning on race is any indication.
Errin Haines on vote suppression and election integrity
The pandemic is definitely political for folks, especially for Black folks. That is certainly true of the Black voters that I’m hearing from in this moment — that dual pandemics of coronavirus and racism are on people’s minds even as they are thinking about the election. That is, some 90 days ahead of us and the conversation around mail-in balloting raising the specter of voter fraud or corruption around this election. Black people know what they’re hearing when they hear that kind of rhetoric. The other part of this — voter education — is going to be hugely important, especially for the Black community and especially in areas where you have historic disenfranchisement that makes a lot of Black folks feel better about casting a ballot in person. So conditioning them to the idea around absentee balloting as a vote that they can cast with integrity is going to be hugely important.
Reckon Interview Season 3
Episode One: The fight for the vote and how to ensure your vote counts
Episode Two: How the South created modern politics and what’s at stake in 2020