Black Churches Press On With Voting Tradition Despite Georgia’s Restrictions

Helen Butler, executive director of The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, speaks to organizers at a Black church tradition event known as “Souls to the Polls” in Decatur, Ga., Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.
Helen Butler, executive director of The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, speaks to organizers at a Black church tradition event known as “Souls to the Polls” in Decatur, Ga., Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.

Despite the voting restrictions signed into law by Georgia’s Republican-dominated legislature last year, Black church leaders and activists joined together for a rally on Sunday. Two dozen cars and a large bus with the image of civil rights icon John Lewis headed from Rainbow Baptist Church to a nearby polling station, the Associated Press reports.

“Our ancestors fought far harder than we’re fighting,” said Rhonda Taylor, a leader in the AME Church in Atlanta who participated in Sunday’s rally. “We got to keep going.”

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Right after record Black voter turnout that helped flip two Senate seats for the Democrats and helped elect President Joe Biden into office, the Georgia legislature enacted a series of voter restrictions called SB 202. While it was said to “restore integrity in Georgia’s voting system,” it really rolled back the expansion of ballot drop boxes, reduced early voting before runoff elections, and prohibited groups from handing out food and water to voters in line. There has also been the problem of unlimited voting challenges to suppress eligibility on purpose.

The law almost ended Sunday voting altogether, but the Republican legislation backed off. Thus, “souls to the polls,” chairman of the board of trustees of the Conference of National Black Churches, W. Franklyn Richardson, describes it as the Black churches’ collective fight for justice and freedom continues.

“Souls To The Polls” goes back to the Jim Crow era of the 1950s and the 1960 Civil Rights movements. As the Associated Press points out, Rev. George Lee, a Black Mississippi entrepreneur, was assassinated by white supremacists in 1955 after he helped nearly 100 Black residents register to vote in the town of Belzoni.

“No matter what barriers they try to put in place, we’re going to find a way for our people to get around those barriers so they can exercise their right to vote,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the People’s Agenda.

Despite the restrictions, early voting is said to be occurring at a record pace in Georgia. Fox 5 Atlanta has noted over 1.6 million Georgians have voted - more than 1.5 million in-person and over 155,000 via absentee ballots.

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