Black Church Leaders In Georgia On The Importance Of ‘Souls To The Polls’ : NPR

Voters enter a polling station at Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia on January 5. Black churches have often played a role in mobilizing their parishioners to vote. Sandy Huffaker / AFP via Getty Images Hide caption

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Sandy Huffaker / AFP via Getty Images

Voters enter a polling station at Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia on January 5. Black churches have often played a role in mobilizing their parishioners to vote.

Sandy Huffaker / AFP via Getty Images

One of the measures under consideration in the Georgian legislature would restrict the early vote on Sunday in the state.

Voting on Sunday is especially important for parishioners in black churches who regularly hold “Souls for Elections” events after the Sunday service.

“We gather in our churches on Sunday mornings, you have morning services and after the service you get on the church buses, church carts, get into cars and people go to vote,” says Bishop Reginald T. Jackson of the Sixth District, African Methodist Episcopal Church . Jackson is the presiding prelate for more than 500 churches in Georgia.

“It’s a very effective way for the Black Church to cast our votes,” he told Steve Inskeep in the Morning Edition.

Georgia’s Republican leadership House passed HB 531 earlier this month. One of its provisions would largely standardize voting in the various districts and limit the ability of some districts to offer more election days.

Previously, the churches could offer to bring their members to the election on several Sundays with an early vote. Under the new proposal, an early voting could only take place on a Sunday at most, with local officials deciding whether the early voting would take place on that county’s weekend in either location Saturday or Sunday. Supporters of the change argue that this would lead to more consistency and less confusion in state elections.

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Participation of the black churches in politics and voters The mobilization goes back to the years after the civil war. But they became an important force during the civil rights movement.

“Souls to the polls has a direct connection with Jim Crow when we were fighting for the right to vote,” said Christy Jackson, chief executive of the Sixth Bishopric, who is also married to Bishop Jackson. “It became something that gave us comfort to go in a group with our church group to vote during that time.”

In modern times, Christy Jackson tells the Morning Edition, souls for election are not just for members of the Church, but for the wider community. “It might just be community members who get on the bus and know they have safe transport to the elections, if you will.”

Churches are especially important in mobilizing African Americans in rural areas, says Christy Jackson. “There are some polling stations, polling stations that are 10, 15, 20 miles away from where a person lives. And so these centrally located churches, for example, become so-called hubs in the neighborhood.”

The bills in the Georgian legislature that would increase the voting barriers are largely supported by Republicans.

One criticism from Republicans is that black church leaders influence their members in voting. State Senator Larry Walker previously told NPR that he was concerned about “undue influence” on voters while other people help fill out the ballot papers.

Black voters have leaned heavily on democracy for decades.

Reginald Jackson counters that “the goal is to get people to vote. You don’t tell them how to vote, but we encourage them to vote.” He says he’s not afraid to advise people when asked. “It’s a common thing,” he says, adding that this also happens in white, strongly republican, evangelical churches.

The bishop says if Sunday election restrictions and other measures become law, African Americans will hold out.

“If you go back to the early days of Jim Crow, after all they did to make it difficult for us to vote, our ancestors made all valiant efforts. They cast their votes. Blacks are resilient,” he says.

Christy Jackson adds that it is important to tell young activists about the struggles of the past. “You have to tell the story so you can see the line of passage on the other side.”

Victoria Whitley-Berry and Jacob Conrad produced and edited the audio interview.


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