WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (AP) — Sitting on the wooden pews of a small white brick church on a hot Wednesday afternoon in central Georgia, a group of residents gathered to chat about the upcoming governor’s race and the issues concerning them in their community, from economic development to health care to infrastructure.
“We’ve got to get out to the nursing homes, tell the DJ if that’s what we’ve got to do to get to the young folks,” said Houston County NAACP Vice President Jonathan Johnson, thinking aloud as the audience nodded in agreement. “We could start a cookout. If we could do that as a community, we could make a big difference in this election.”
These were not the rural voters who have gotten so much attention after helping elect President Donald Trump in 2016. They are the black rural voters living in red states. They’re staunchly Democratic even as they’re surrounded by white voters who are almost all Republicans. And they’re often overlooked by big-name candidates from both parties.
“There’s a narrative that is out in the world right now around what rural America looks like, and it completely erases the existence of black rural folks,” said Tamika Middleton, organizing director for Care in Action, a domestic workers advocacy group, in attendance at the church gathering. “We exist. There have never been black folks who were not fighting and resisting in the rural South.”
The Black Belt’s overlap with Trump country could factor into the elections across the South next month, including competitive races for the governor’s mansion in Florida and the Senate in Mississippi. That raises the possibility that black rural voters will have an unusual opportunity to make an impact on statewide races.
But it’s Georgia where black rural voters could be especially important as Stacey Abrams campaigns to become the nation’s first black female governor. A Mississippi native who moved to Georgia as a child, Abrams is the first Democrat in years to have a real chance of winning the governor’s race. And from the beginning, when she launched her campaign in south Georgia’s Dougherty County, she’s made outreach to rural voters a key part of her strategy.