“We shocked the world again,” DeJuana Thompson said.
She had joined a group of young black Alabamians last Tuesday night in Birmingham to watch the election results roll in. At the end of the night, the Associated Press called the Senate special election for Democrat Doug Jones—but the loudest cheers were reserved for the returns from black communities throughout the state. Even after the race was called, the results from the state’s “black belt” continued to roll in. In county after county, black voters turned out at a rate higher than their share of the population, in some places at levels approaching the numbers seen in the 2016 general election.
The question at the beginning of the night was whether a disgraced former state chief justice might still win enough votes to give the GOP another Senate seat. The story at the end of the night was that black voters had come to the polls with unexpected and unheralded zeal and imposed their will on Alabama. The question the next day was just how they’d done it, even against the inertia of voter suppression and Republican domination in a racially polarized state.
It’s a question that, like the Senate race itself, has drawn national attention. Democrats, who hope to recapture the House and Senate in 2018, are trying to understand their unexpected success in Alabama so that they can replicate it next year. But it was painstaking, careful organizing by black organizations that seems to have made the greatest difference—and black activists are drawing their own lessons from their successes in Alabama, as they seek to empower their communities.