In the first part of 2018, Alabama politics were getting a monumental shakeup — courtesy of black women.
At least 70 black women candidates launched electoral campaigns across Alabama for local, state, and national offices in 2018. It’s a historic number in Alabama state politics.
This parallels a national trend: There are 590 black women candidates across the United States in 2018 — the largest in history. And particularly in a state where black Americans make up over a quarter of the population but aren’t nearly as visible in government positions — and with a history of racial tension and inequality — this representation is both powerful and necessary.
The numerous campaigns across the state reflect a changing Alabama, a welcome shift for many voters of color. Leading this huge change is a pool of black women candidates who are incredibly diverse in educational and political experience and ultimate goals for their constituents.
Arlene Easley, a lifelong Alabamian candidate with a business administration background, is running for the Alabama House. Easley, a child of the Jim Crow-era South, told Glamour she ran to represent people like her.
“I’m running for people like me, who go to work every day, who are raising their family, who want to see jobs, higher-quality education, better access to health insurance, and affordable living wages in Alabama,” Easley said.
Honored to have been featured in @glamourmag article alongside these wonderfully amazing women who are running for office in Alabama. Follow @glamourmag all day as they release video feed from interviews. #alpolitics #Vote2018 #BlueWave https://t.co/c21XodpRFo pic.twitter.com/QiY70eQFjg
— Vote Easley Alabama House 104 (@EasleyH104) May 24, 2018
Other black women candidates, like Rep. Terri Sewell, aren’t newcomers to politics.
Sewell made history in 2011 when she became the first black woman to represent Alabama in Congress. Now up for re-election, Sewell is hoping to continue working toward an inclusive political atmosphere that makes spaces for black women’s voices.
“As a congressional intern during the late eighties, I remember walking the halls of the Capitol and not seeing many black women in any role, let alone as elected officials,” Sewell told Glamour. “When I was first elected, making my voice heard as a black woman surrounded by older white men was a challenge. This year we’re proving the strength of our voice at the ballot box.”
Black women’s presence flips the script in a state with a history of particularly rough racial relationships.
Home to numerous civil rights marches, a notorious lynching history, and a culture that still continues to perpetuate decades-old racism, Alabama has struggled to find ways to create a state that is truly equal for all. For decades, black women have been at the helm of activism and community engagement trying to create real and lasting change.
In spite of flawed stereotypes about the South and black Americans’ willingness to vote, black women voters across the nation have helped candidates like Doug Jones, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Barack Obama get elected. This dedication to the right to vote and the hope for a better future for Americans of color has been central to their mission, and it continues today. It’s something that black women candidates take into account, and according The Ohio State University associate professor and political scientist Wendy Smooth, the voters are counting on the candidates to take their concerns seriously.
“Alabama voters are looking and evaluating candidates in all of these races with an eye to which candidates can have the most positive impact on their communities,” Smooth writes in an email. “While we (press, pundits, scholars) are making much of the numbers of Black women stepping forth as candidates, in the end its their messages, their policy positions that matter most to voters—as it should. Black women candidates want voters to understand the messaging of their campaigns; the issues they stand for; and what they seek to contribute to their communities and on behalf of their communities.”
On June 5, Alabamians will head to the polls to make their decision on various candidates. As encouraging as this year’s race demographics are, black women candidates have a battle ahead. Alabama is still a predominately Republican state, and most black women candidates are Democratic. As with many places in the United States, racism is still pervasive and often finds its way into both communities and government.
Regardless of the voter outcome across the state, this election is setting the stage for a new, different Alabama.
It also makes it clear that black women are fighting not only for better elected officials but for multiple seats at the table.
“The significance of the increase in Black women running this year is certainly important for highlighting their political activism that spans time,” Smooth writes. “However, I am most interested in how this year’s midterm elections inspire women and Black women in particular to continue running for office; continue learning about public policy; and continue mobilizing their communities to participate in the electoral process. All of these actions enrich our democracy and increase the likelihood that more voices inform our decisions and practices. In essence, I’m thrilled by this attention to Black women this year and women overall, but I am driven to think ahead about how this attention sets expectations for even greater participation and inclusion in politics.”
Black women have been on the frontlines of activism, politics, and community engagement. Their rise in politics is long overdue, and the Alabama primary sets the stage for a future that is more inclusive for all communities. It’s about time.