Black Church Tradition Survives Georgia Vote Changes | Believe

ATLANTA (AP) — Black church leaders and activists in Georgia gathered on Sunday in an effort to get congregation members to vote — a long tradition known as “souls to the ballot box” that is taking on greater significance this year amid new obstacles to the vote. casting a vote in the midterm elections.

At Rainbow Baptist Church, just outside Atlanta, about two dozen cars and a large bus decorated with the image of civil rights icon John Lewis formed a caravan in the parking lot. Teresa Hardy, an organizer for the voting rights group The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, led a prayer before the caravan headed for a polling station in a nearby mall.

Few in the group actually voted there, but organizers said it was important to promote voting, especially in the wake of new restrictions enacted by the state legislature.

“Your rights are being taken away,” said Comarkco Blackett, a minister at Rainbow Baptist. “We need to get out, stand together across color boundaries.”

Although lawmakers withdrew the ban on voting on Sunday, the bill shortened the time to request ballot papers, reversed the COVID-19 pandemic-driven expansion of ballot boxes, reduced early second-round votes and banned groups from exchanging food and water. parts for voters in line.

Republicans said Georgia’s new law was needed to restore confidence in the state’s electoral system. Civil rights proponents saw it as an attack on black voters, who helped Democrats win Georgia’s 2020 presidential election for the first time since 1992 and later capture the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. They are pushing back by doubling their efforts to get black voters.

“Whatever barriers they try to put up, we will find a way for our people to get around those barriers so they can actually exercise their voting rights,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the People’s Agenda.

Sunday’s caravan ended at a strip mall, where several dozen people held up signs encouraging passers-by to vote. Georgia has seen significant turnout in the early voting, which runs through November 4. As of Friday morning, more than 1.25 million voters had voted in person, according to the secretary of state’s office, a jump of more than 50 percent from the 2018 midterm contest.

“Our ancestors fought a lot harder than we fight,” said Rhonda Taylor, a leader of the Atlanta AME Church who participated in Sunday’s rally. “We must continue.”

US Senator Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, who will be re-elected in November, attended a separate “souls to the polls” event at an Atlanta church.

“Souls to the ballot box” reflects the black church’s central role in the fight for justice and freedom in the US, said W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the board of trustees of the Conference of National Black Churches.

Richardson said such efforts are particularly crucial this election cycle.

“It is the cumulative achievement of our people that is being challenged and threatened that is what makes this such an urgent election,” he said.

The idea for “souls to the polls” goes back to the civil rights movement. Reverend George Lee, a Black Mississippi entrepreneur, was murdered by white supremacists in 1955 after helping nearly 100 black residents register to vote in the town of Belzoni.

It reflects a greater effort by the black community to use the church for voting rights, said Matthew Delmont, a Dartmouth history professor.

In addition to motivating potential voters, pastors provide the “logistical support to get people straight from church service to vote,” he said.

Fields reported from Washington.

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