How Stacy Abrams Became the Brightest Star in the New South
From limiting original voting rights to white men, to the elitist and racist origins of the Electoral College, American democracy has always left people out of participation, by design― Stacey Abrams, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America.
For hundreds of years, African Americans experienced structural challenges to voting. In response, advocates chipped away at the blockade one election cycle at a time. The recent Democratic electoral success stemmed from a movement nurtured by Black women. It finally blossomed in an international celebration over our new Vice-President-elect. Madam Kamala Harris represents the culmination of civil rights advocacy. No longer will Americans look only to white people or men for meaningful leadership. Voters and advocates like Stacy Abrams made this moment possible.
When Stacy Abrams ran for the Georgia Governors’ race in 2018, she turned heads. No one expected her to shine, but she did. Americans took notice and wondered, could we soon have a Black woman as governor of Georgia? Sure, Abrams lost the race. However, she did so by a small margin and proved that losing is only part of progress. Anything worth having is worth investing time, consistent discipline, and hope. She would not give up. In the aftermath of her loss, she registered many new voters and fought against discriminatory voting policies.
Stacy Abrams is the modern-day Fannie Lou Hamer
Her advocacy empowered Black women to become active participants in American democracy. I can’t help but notice the similarities between her work and an earlier civil rights giant, Fannie Lou Hamer. She fought against voter suppression and intimidation tactics that blocked Black people from registering and voting. Hamer started campaigning in Mississippi, her home state, gave speeches across the country, and even delivered a national speech before Congress, speaking about the brutality and roadblocks Black voters experienced.
I'm Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired - Dec. 20, 1964
Hamer delivered this speech with Malcolm X at a rally at the Williams Institutional CME Church, Harlem, New York, that…
The post-Civil War era also brought forth a group of White people who thought of themselves as “Redeemers” — Southern “patriots” out to rescue Old Dixie from an encroaching federal government, with aims to restore white supremacy and maintain power over Black voters through gerrymandering, electoral intimidation and unfair ballot laws (Shah, 2018).
The Black liberation movement in America rose out of opposition to Redeemers, who attempted to restore white supremacy as the head cornerstone of American democracy. After losing the Civil War to Union soldiers, most white Southerners maintained their racist ideology and considered themselves a superior race. They implemented Jim Crow laws to ensure Black people would not receive equal treatment.
No act of terror went too far. Cross-burning, kidnapping, murder and lynching were deployed to keep Blacks from the polls (King, 2020).
Black women like Stacy Abrams and Fannie Lou Hamer represent the American dream of unity. Only through acknowledging the legitimacy of African American civil participation can this country come together. In Our Civil Rights Are Not Guaranteed, I discussed why many Americans assume the fight for civil rights is over. Many believe that because the advocacy of the 1960s culminated in The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965, Black advocates won the war on racism. Despite the previous generation’s active engagement, systemic racism continued and even blossomed under a color-blind America.
During her lifetime, Fannie Lou Hamer helped many Black people register to vote. Black people risked their jobs and lives. She endured debilitating beatings yet never let previous failures deter her from pushing ahead. Because of her hard work and diligence, Black women no longer face physical brutality when registering and casting their votes.
Still, physical abuse represents only one kind of voter suppression. Literacy tests, poll taxes, redistricting, and purging of the voter rolls became consistent tactics used to limit agency, keeping Black communities disenfranchised throughout the United States.
When it comes to voter suppression, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the goals of the post-Reconstruction Ku Klux Klan and the intention of today’s Donald Trump Republicans. Their common endeavor? Make it harder for people of color to vote (King, 2020).
Stacy Abrams, like Fannie Lou Hamer, fights against tactics that white-dominated administrations continue to use. Her advocacy empowered Black women to unlock doors others say were impossible to open. Abrams’ persistence and love for the people of Georgia and America inspired her to accomplish the seemingly impossible, challenging the status quo that progressive politicians should expect to lose in the Deep South.
From 2007 to 2017, Stacy Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives. As a voting rights advocate, she gained widespread state support and earned the role of minority leader from 2011 to 2017. When Stacy Abrams arrived on the national political scene, she ran to become the first African American woman governor of Georgia and America. That made her historical run a move towards empowerment.
Fannie Lou Hamer once brought an entire bus full of Black citizens to register to vote. They were stopped by police officers, questioned, and fined for the wrong color yellow on the bus. The State Attorney’s office denied their access to register. This story seems eerily familiar to the encounter Black voters endured in 2018.
On the first day of early voting, a bus full of African American senior citizens on their way to a voting center were turned back. Organizers called it ‘live voter suppression’ (Shah, 2018).
These women faced the same obstacle — white supremacy. Each of them grew up in different eras but held the same values. Modern Black progressives share those values. While I understand that many want everyone to get along, complacency keeps Black people disenfranchised.
While no Black person will become the perfect representative for all Black people, we cannot change by fretting over perfection. The goal is and should always be progressing. Only in keeping the progress, we fought so hard for can we maintain liberty. Fannie Lou Hamer illuminated the South during her life, but now we have a new star. Stacy Abrams will guide the way. Americans should learn to trust and believe in a Black woman’s faithful leadership.
Because I learned long ago that winning doesn’t always mean you get the prize. Sometimes you get progress, and that counts ― Stacey Abrams, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America
The Civil War still impacts American politics
When the Civil War came to a close, all Northerners wanted was peace. Still, historians rarely discuss the fact that their peace came at the expense of Black people. They called formerly enslaved people African Americans but failed to protect the rights of these new citizens. Redeemers resented federal intervention on behalf of African Americans. Many became sharecroppers and, under Jim Crow laws, endured the same hardships as those enslaved before them. The federal government’s same blasé approach resulted in voter suppression, facilitated by discriminatory state-run policies. These policies, combined with the actions of white supremacist groups, are the same impediments to progress.
When Stacy Abrams advocates, she does so to insist that states treat Black people equally. Black people who live in the South understand the vital role the federal government can play in facilitating a more fair system. Nevertheless, there has been a long resistance to addressing systemic racism for fear of tearing apart the country. Not much has changed because most white Americans still value unity over righteousness. This discernment is not about one political party but rather an ideology that embraces African Americans as full-fledged citizens.
Throughout history, Black people made significant sacrifices for the country, and we deserve reciprocity. When the Trump administration refused to uphold parts of The Voting Rights Act of 1965, they landed a decisive blow to civil rights the previous generation worked so hard to secure. Along with decimating The Voting Rights Act, Trump’s administration has worked hard to roll back human rights across the board, according to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Trump Administration Civil and Human Rights Rollbacks
Since Trump took office in January 2017, his administration has worked aggressively to turn back the clock on our…
I get it; most white people are tired of fighting with one another over Black people. However, they should consider that when the government disregards African Americans’ rights, democracy faces the same threat. Any law used to disenfranchise minorities can also become utilized to take away rights for poor white citizens.
All of this electoral drama stems from the end of The Civil War. White Northerners who risked their lives to end the institution of slavery never won the ideological war. The legislature should have prosecuted Southerners who refused to acknowledge African people’s humanity.
The federal government granted amnesty to the slave owners and their descendants when they were never their crimes to forgive. America owes an apology for enslaving Africans. They should communicate contrition to the African countries they pillaged.
White Northerners should have charged Southerners with war crimes like the Germans did with the Nazis. Instead, they wanted peace. Oh, how I have come to despise this word over time. Peace is a privilege reserved for white people who are sick and tired. However, they should listen to Fannie Lou Hamer’s speech to understand that Black women are sick and tired of being sick and tired. There is no way around it. This country needs restorative justice, but we cannot get that when Black people lack sufficient representation and reverence.
Stacy Abrams reflects the long chain of advocacy stemming from the aftermath of the Confederacy. Black women want to work alongside all Americans to make things right, but that cannot happen under both sides’ mantra. Slavery and not slavery cannot be right all at once. Neither can voter suppression and voter advocacy be equivocated. This country refuses to heal because it will not acknowledge the real schism — race.
America finds itself in an ideological battle between those who see both sides as acceptable, those who oppose civil rights, and those who fight for civil rights. Is this such a difficult choice to make?
Why Stacy Abrams shines the brightest in the New South
Because I learned long ago that winning doesn’t always mean you get the prize. Sometimes you get progress, and that counts― Stacey Abrams, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America
Years before she spoke as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention, she spoke as a young woman about Black voters’ hurdles throughout American history. Her consistency empowered Black women to get in social advocacy early in life. She persisted, growing her name recognition for all the right reasons. Instead of sulking after losing her gubernatorial race, she fought by registering new voters and pushing an agenda that embraced equality.
She was determined to show what Georgia really could be,” said Michael Collins, the longtime chief of staff for Rep. John Lewis. “And I think what we’re witnessing today is the result of that (Griffith, 2020)
America never truly trusted Black women to become the extraordinary leaders they were born to become. Most white people want to see Black women beg for a place at the table. However, society does not reward complacency or submission. So, not only is it misogynoiristic to expect this, but it is also an unrealistic path to victory. Once again, respectability politics rears its ugly head. Acting contrite for white people does not facilitate progress. Stacy Abrams understands that, which is why she shines the brightest in the New South.
The New South represents the growing diversity of Southern voters. In opposition to the white-dominated Old South, progressive politicians hope to make end roads with a more diverse electorate. Stacy Abrams wants each person to place their vote, and as simple as it sounds, centuries of voter suppression and intimidation reflect the problematic nature of her goals. Biden and Kamala’s victory in Georgia represents the power of the New South. The success was hard-fought, and further progress is not guaranteed.
When Stacy Abrams tried to run in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, she hit the cold, hard wall of misogynoir. This term, coined by Moya Bailey, describes the intersectionality of sexism and racism. Modern scholars recognize that Black women live under the threat of a double edge sword. When Abrams ran to become Georgia’s governor, many said she should smile more, with pundits also describing her as over-ambitious.
She’s too ambitious. She’s not apologetic enough. She should smile more (Burnett, 2020).
Most white people want to kneecap Black politicians. They will find any way to justify disliking a Black woman from her appearance to her facial expressions to her tenacity to lead.
It’s frustrating to realize we’re taught to be humble in a way that men are not― Stacey Abrams, Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change
Stacy shines because she is not done working. She used her loss as momentum to build a formidable ground game. Black women understand that one generation of advocacy cannot make permanent change. Even Fannie Lou Hamer lost a run to represent Mississippi in the Senate. Losing is part of the democratic process. Women like Abrams and Hamer teach us that we only win if we fight. A movement can and must learn from its failures just as much as its victories.
Black women struggle to break glass ceilings. Their troubles stem from an American society engrained with sociopolitical barriers. Women in general, but Black women particularly, have never had proper representation in the American government. Congress has a growing population of women. However, Black, Latina, Indigenous, and Asian women remain underrepresented.
It’s a fundamental problem that stretches back into the history of Georgia and the wider south where racial tensions and the fight over who can vote persists from the days of civil rights struggles (Shah, 2018).
To continue on the path towards progress, Black women need motivation. After hundreds of years of failures, anyone would feel discouraged. Some do not believe that America can or ever will address systemic racism. They have good reason to doubt that progress will occur. For centuries, white citizens and politicians have enjoyed the support of a white-dominated system. Stacy Abrams inspires Black women by focusing on the change we can make in our lifetimes.
Racism is not a Trumpian trend; it is part of the framework of American society. Abrams, like many Black advocates, understands that persistence triumphs oppression. Many white people hoped she would fail at her attempt to become Georgia’s governor. However, her will is not something that can easily break under the condescending eyes of opponents. Her organization, Fair Fight, is the culmination of her attempts to create a fair electoral process for all Americans. Her aids announced she would try once again to become Georgia’s first Black woman governor, running for the 2022 opening.
Stacy Abrams is an effective leader because she found a way to advocate from the outside. Without holding federal office, she managed to develop a sizable movement by informing citizens about their rights. It is important for Americans to understand the ways in which systemic racism progressed over the years.
Today, the ones barring access have shifted from using billy clubs and hoses to using convoluted rules to make it harder to register and stay on the rolls, cast a ballot, or have that ballot counted. To move forward, we must understand the extent to which the shrinking conservative minority will go to create barriers to democracy (Abrams, 2020).
African American women live in a country whose demographic is changing. As more women of color enter the political system, the wealthy white minority will continue to implement policies to maintain control. However, the future depends on how we react to bigotry. Stacy Abrams became the brightest star in the New South by showing the persistence necessary for change.
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Abrams, S. (2020). Lead from the Outside Quotes by Stacey Abrams. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/58201093-lead-from-the-outside-how-to-build-your-future-and-make-real-change
Burnett, S. (2020, August 03). Smile more? Some critics see sexism in the debate over Biden VP. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://lasvegassun.com/news/2020/aug/03/smile-more-some-critics-see-sexism-in-debate-over/.
Griffith, J. (2020, November 11). Credited with boosting Democrats in Georgia, Stacey Abrams looks to January. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/credited-boosting-democrats-georgia-stacey-abrams-looks-january-n1247281
King, C. (2020, October 16). Opinion | When it comes to suppressing Black votes, it’s the 19th century all over again. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/when-it-comes-to-suppression-of-black-votes-its-the-19th-century-all-over-again/2020/10/16/68e22f1e-0f07-11eb-8a35-237ef1eb2ef7_story.html
Shah, K. (2018, November 10). ‘Textbook voter suppression’: Georgia’s bitter election battle years in the making. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/10/georgia-election-recount-stacey-abrams-brian-kemp