Let’s set politics aside. Can we do that? It’s 2021, so maybe for a moment? It appears as of this morning that the Democratic Party won both Senate seats in the Georgia Senate Runoff election. As of now the Associated Press has declared candidate Raphael Warnock the winner and it appears that Jon Ossoff will likely extend his lead today to clinch the second Senate seat. I am not looking to gloat or complain about the winners and losers but I would like to contextualize the results of this election in the political, racial, and religious history of the state of Georgia.
2000. 2000 was the last time Georgia elected a Senator from the Democratic party. Though I will say, Zell Miller was not what many would call a capital “L” liberal. Outside of a couple of random Republican Senators in the late 20th century, GA primarily voted Democrat in most elections. That is the state’s political history. However, these were all members of what many would call the conservative wing of the Democratic Party often referred to as “Dixiecrats.” Since the Civil Rights Movement, the Southern Strategy slowly took root in the Georgia as the state became more and more red toward the end of the 20th century. But here in 2021 we see the election of not one, but two, liberal Democrats; with one candidate defeating an incumbent. It’s interesting to reflect on what this actually means for the state. I’m sure data will continue to be analyzed but I think much of the change has to be attributed to the growth of Atlanta and the African American community. We can pile on the additional causes of lack of enthusiasm, due to the President not being on the ticket. There are some arguments to suggest Republican voters in the state are “sticking it to the Republican Party” for not overturning Biden’s win in the 2020 Presidential election. Recent polling data indicates the majority of GA voters disagree with Trump’s handling of the election loss and that could have impacted this election. Did the last round of stimulus checks come literally too little and too late? Finally, the question is asked as to what impact Trump’s approval rating impacted the Senate election. Obviously all of these issues matter collectively and in different ways in the minds of many voters. But I have to reiterate that we cannot overlook how the growth of Atlanta and its change in demographics over the past decades impacted this election; and likely will continue to do so in elections to come.
With his victory last night and eventual seating Raphael Warnock will officially be Georgia’s first black U.S. Senator. He will only be the second black Senator from a Southern state in the post Reconstruction era. And finally, he will be the 11th black Senator in U.S. History. Let me reiterate, I am not talking about Warnock’s politics, I am pointing out the historic implications. It is absolutely monumental (as in we may actually see a monument to this guy some day) for Warnock to emerge as the victor. I think in the 21st century we lose sight of the atrocious and barbarous acts committed by Georgia’s white citizens on their black counterparts. Georgia is a state immersed in the legacy of Jim Crow. It actively disenfranchised African-Americans and was complacent in the violence that maintained segregation. Georgia shares a dark history of subjugation of black people whether it be slavery or segregation. It takes very little time and effort to find examples of the atrocities. Yet despite that history a black man and pastor for Ebenezer Baptist Church, a place many would call a holy fixture in the Civil Rights Movement and Black Community, emerged victorious in a Senate election. It does call for a moment of pause and appreciation of the change that did occur.
It appears that Jon Ossoff is the likely victor against the incumbent David Perdue. The question remains whether his lead will increase past the recount threshold. But what an interesting win. Ossoff is a liberal Democrat that defeated a Conservative incumbent. Additionally, Ossoff is a first generation American born in Georgia. He is young – 33 years old to be exact and has spent most of his life in school and interning. Granted – solid internships and solid education. I read recently he is the youngest elected Senator in nearly five decades. If I’m not mistaken, since Joe Biden’s first Senate victory. As a GA native, it is somewhat hard to fathom that a young liberal defeated an old white conservative. What makes this historic however, is the fact that Ossoff is now the first Jewish Senator elected by a Southern state since the 1880s and the first ever in the State of Georgia. Mirroring its history with the black community, Georgia does not have a pleasant background when it comes to its treatment of Jewish citizens. The state’s history is rife with Ku Klux Klan anti-Semitic acts as well as other atrocities committed in the judicial system.. Probably the most heinous event in the saga is the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank . (Frank’s alleged crime of murder is dismissed today as the result of antiemetic forces). Even in the current election between Ossoff and Perdue controversy emerged when a Perdue created attack ad digitally lengthened Ossoff’s nose; a form of anti-Semitic imagery. Perdue apparently refused to issue and apology for the ad and just cited an error.
The recent Presidential and Senate Elections have some lasting implications for Georgia. I seriously doubt this was a random exception to the rule. Many activists for some time have commented on GA’s transition to a “purple” or “battleground” state when it comes to politics. It appears we have finally reached that time. Politics aside I think it is important to reflect on the cultural and historical implications of these recent elections. Do they represent real change taking place or are they isolated incidents unlikely to repeat any time soon? Has Georgia changed so much?