Black girl magic: the power of black women at the polls

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Black women only make up about seven percent of the nation’s population but at the polls, Black women turn out to vote in larger numbers than almost every other demographic.

And some experts said Black women will be a major force on Election Day this year.

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During early voting in Shelby County, lines wrapped around some polling places.

Memphis attorney Princess Woodard said the sight reminded her of her grandmothers.

“They voted in every election if it was local, if it was state, if it was federal, they voted, they showed up, they wanted their voices heard,” said Woodard.

Woodard too has voted in every election since she turned 18. It’s a passion for the political system she credits to every polling place her grandmothers took her to as a child.

“Them always prompting it, talking about it, most definitely put me in a space to know that it was just something that I have to do. It’s not something that you do passively. It’s a commitment to do it, an obligation to do it, for your individual self, for your community and for the betterment of people,” said Woodard.

On the other end of the aisle, Cheryl Brown said she’s been voting Republican since President Ronald Reagan.

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“I’m a proud Republican but I love my values so I don’t vote just because I’m a Republican. If the Republicans were not voting my Christian value then I wouldn’t vote that way,” said Brown who chairs the Williamson County Republican Party.

These women vote very different tickets but both represent one of the most active voting blocs.

“When you fire [black women] up, we don’t go to the polls alone, we bring our house, our block, our church, our sorority and our union,” said Glynda C. Carr, President and CEO of nonprofit, Higher Heights.

Carr is one of the many behind #BlackWomenVote, a nonpartisan voter-activism campaign. She said this movement goes beyond the hashtag… she says the campaign offers black women the tools and information they need to engage their communities regardless of the political party.

“We are informed," Carr said. "We know the issues and we may not be candidate by it but be clear we are voting for economically thriving, educated, healthy and safe communities and that’s not just for vying for candidates at the top of the ticket for Congress. These are the conversations we’re having with those who are vying for our votes for city hall, for school boards across this country.”

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According to a recent report from the Center for American Progress, an independent nonpartisan policy institute, Black women turned out in record numbers back in 2008. It shows 75 percent of Black women voted in 2008, 74 percent in 2012 and 66 percent in 2016.

Even though there was a slight decline during the most recent presidential election, the report showed Black women turned out in the 2018 midterms. Black women voters surged 16 percentage points from the previous midterm election, going from 41 percent to 57 percent.

Experts said it’s a track record that is getting the nation’s attention.

“This isn’t to say that they had not exercised their power before but I think that is precisely when it became so transparent and then when you did have the lead up to the 2016 election, where just the mass numbers,” said Dr. Trimiko Melancon, an English and Africana studies professor at Rhodes College.

Melancon said much of this enthusiasm for voting among black women comes from fighting for this right for so long.

The 19th amendment gave White women the right to vote in 1920 but Black women didn’t get that same right until the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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“Recognize the role that voting and voter turnout and all these different types of dynamics play within their advantage of their freedom, advancement of being able to implement the different types of policies they need,” said Melancon.

With record-breaking turnout during early voting this year, Melancon said Black women will be a force at the polls on Election Day.

“2020 does mark this year and this shift in that the nation is saying Black women we recognize you and I think part of it is because historically they have played a role as a voting bloc but now this is such a consequential right that they really have to tap into that political energy of Black women,” said Melancon.

And while many Black women identify as Democrats not all Black women are alike.

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“Hearing that the Democrat Party is the party for Black people only and we’re saying no that’s not true. The Democratic Party has been keeping us bound,” said Brown.

Brown said there are more minority women joining the Republican Party this year and more minority women becoming leaders in the party like herself.

“I think that because of all of us who are coming out now and they’re seeing us on the platform that other blacks are coming out and they’re listening, they’re listening and hearing what we have to say,” said Brown.

Woodard said she is voting the issues but seeing another woman of color on the ballot is powerful and something she believes will energize even more black women voters.

“This is the first time in my life, I’ve seen someone who I truly see a reflection of myself in as a woman, as an attorney, as an African American, as a member of certain organizations, I’m a reflection of her and she is a reflection of me,” said Woodard.