by Jamia Wilson (with reporting by Samantha Leach) via glamour.com
Before Black Panther celebrated the all-female freedom fighters of Wakanda, real-life black women formed their own type of special-forces unit in Alabama. When a whopping 98 percent of African American women voters united behind Doug Jones, they were able to elect him as the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate in more than 20 years. They didn’t just defeat Roy Moore; they rocked the political status quo.
They have no intention of stopping there.
An unprecedented groundswell of at least 70 black women have launched electoral campaigns across Alabama for local, state, and national offices in 2018, according to the nonprofit Emerge America, which trains women to run for office. While this echoes a national trend (the Black Women in Politics database lists 590 black female candidates across the country, 97 of them for federal seats), experts say the numbers in Alabama are particularly striking. From first-time hopefuls to seasoned veterans, twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings, women are lining up to disrupt the mostly white, mostly Republican old boys’ club in the state. (Only two black women are running as Republicans in Alabama this year, both for local seats, according to the state’s GOP office.) “African Americans are a quarter of the population here, yet they aren’t seeing their issues front and center,” says Rhonda Briggins, a co-founder of VoteRunLead and an Alabama native, “so they’ve decided to run themselves.”
Representative Terri Sewell, 53, who’s up for re-election this year, was the first black woman to represent Alabama in Congress when she was elected in 2011. “As a congressional intern during the late eighties, I remember walking the halls of the Capitol and not seeing many black women in any role, let alone as elected officials,” she says. “When I was first elected, making my voice heard as a black woman surrounded by older white men was a challenge. This year we’re proving the strength of our voice at the ballot box.”
Ironically, it was the election of a white guy—thanks to the record-breaking mobilization of black women—that motivated many of these candidates to jump into the race. “After so many black women carried Doug Jones over the threshold, I think more women across the state began to see our political power,” says Ashley Smith, 34, a Montgomery native running for district judge in Lowndes County.
Wendy Smooth, Ph.D., a political scientist at Ohio State University, agrees the high voter turnout in last December’s special election inspired black women candidates to tap into the political momentum. “There was this robust energy, and once energy like that has been released, it doesn’t go away,” she says. “And once women learn [how to] get a candidate elected into office, a lightbulb comes on and they say, ‘This isn’t that hard after all. I too can do this.’ ” But, she’s quick to point out, the uptick of black candidates in Alabama and beyond is not just reactionary. These candidates are building on a tradition of activism among black women that’s resulted in major social progress. They’ve done the work, using their coalition-based organizing methods, to fight voter suppression, help Barack Obama win the presidency, and change the game in the special elections. Running for political office is a key part of their strategy.
Briggins emphasizes that these women are making deliberate next steps in a larger blueprint for change, in both their communities and the country, noting how past seeds laid the groundwork for growth. “Women are primarily the workers behind the Alabama New South Coalition and Alabama Democratic Conference, organizations that, since the civil rights movement, have become the foundation of black political power in Alabama,” she says. Continue reading “Meet 18 Candidates Leading the Historic Rise of Black Women Running for Office in Alabama”