Black women are running for office in record numbers in Alabama

A record number of black women are running for office as Democrats in Alabama.In the aftermath of Alabama's ro...

Posted: Jun 5, 2018 1:44 PM
Updated: Jun 5, 2018 1:44 PM

A record number of black women are running for office as Democrats in Alabama.

In the aftermath of Alabama's roller coaster Senate special election in December 2017, a national spotlight was shone on the black women who turned out in large numbers to vote for Democrat Doug Jones.

Making up 17% of the electorate, 98% of black women cast a ballot for Jones, who many thought would never represent the very red state.

Six months later, more than 70 black women are running for electoral office in Alabama, says Stacie Propst, executive director of Emerge Alabama, a Democratic candidate training program.

That number doesn't capture the candidates running for county and municipal offices, says Propst, who just ran a boot camp for female candidates in Mobile this past weekend.

Propst, an Alabama native, points to Donald Trump's surprise win in 2016 as a galvanizing force and says she's never seen this many African American women running for office in the state.

All but two of the black women running are Democrats, and organizers say a strong showing in such a red state sends a message to the rest of the country.

"The tide is shifting, and these southern states are showing the rest of the country, again as they always have, that we can lead, and we can change the world," says Rhonda Briggins, co-founder of VoteRunLead and Alabama native. "If you look at history, especially Alabama history, civil rights history, women have always led those charges, and have been the ones working very diligently, behind the scenes, organizing."

VoteRunLead is a nonpartisan effort to train women to run for office and Briggins says Alabama's rejection of Republican Roy Moore -- after multiple accusations of unwanted sexual advances toward young women -- motivated African American women to get more involved in politics.

"Now that storm is brewing, I think it's only going to grow," Briggins says of the national attention on black women as a voting bloc. "They've turned these cliches into a reality, of 'Black Girl Magic.' I think people really believe that. I think people really believe they can make a difference, and all you have to do is put yourself out there and do it."

Briggins says judicial positions represent a unique opportunity for black women to impact their local communities.

"If we're going to do something about Black Lives Matter then it starts with our local judicial system, it starts with our local policing powers," Briggins says. "People are now connecting the dots to their lives and connecting that to the political power and influence and then pulling all of these pieces together to create real change."

Around 18 black women are running for circuit, district and probate judge positions in Jefferson County, where voters chose Jones 68% to 31% over Moore.

Three of those women running graduated in Emerge Alabama's inaugural training class, and they've "become like a family."

"We call each other, we text each other," says Jameria Moore, who is running for probate judge. "We talk all the time just encouraging each other. So this has been just a wonderful sisterhood."

Clotele Hardy Brantley, who is running for the district court, met Moore on the campaign trail, but has known Marshell Jackson Hatcher, running for the circuit court, for around 15 years.

Moore says she met Hatcher when she first passed the bar, around 12 years ago.

The three are also Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters and say that sharing the campaign experience has knit them closer together.

Moore and Hatcher turned to Brantley, who has for office before, for advice.

"This was our first time and we didn't know what to do and when you go to this event, how are you supposed to present yourself, or what to expect. And so we were relying on what you were telling us," Hatcher says.

They shared tips about elevator pitches, and the best places to get face time with voters.

"Most people congregate on Sundays, at churches. You get a mass amount of people at churches. It's a little bit easier than going knocking door-to-door, especially in the Alabama heat," Moore told CNN.

They have supported each other through the ups and downs of running for office and feel optimistic no matter the outcome.

"I am claiming victory. And I have from the day that I decided to run this time," Brantley said of Tuesday's primary. "This is my time, I've claimed it."

However, the motivation to run doesn't just belong to African American women who are Democrats in Alabama.

Cherokee County has only one African American woman running for office in either party: 18-year-old Jayla McElrath, running as a Republican.

McElrath graduated from Cedar Bluffs High School just a week ago and is running for County Board of Education.

She says her mom always told her "to think outside the box" and after being elected to student government, and serving on the local city council committee, she was determined to improve learning conditions for other students.

She was too young to vote in the Senate special election but said she was following the race intently and probably would have voted for Jones.

McElrath says she was inspired by President Barack Obama to see a black man as president even if she disagreed with his positions, but also takes inspiration from President Donald Trump.

"You can come from a different background anywhere and create change," McElrath says. "He thinks outside of the box too."

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