Georgia, HBCUs and the Fate of Humanity

By Kevin Hall

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

This would be a great time for Dr. King’s dream to be made real. Because of Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff for two U.S. Senate seats, Democrats must win both races to achieve a 50-seat parity with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But it’s the daughters of former slaves the world must turn to for salvation.

An evenly split upper chamber with Vice President Kamala Harris as its tie-breaking vote is the country’s last hope for urgently needed action on climate change and wildlands preservation. Humanity has entered its final decade to achieve the dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases needed to stave off the worst effects of weather system disintegration and ecosystem collapse.

As centrist and fracking friendly as the Biden-Harris campaign was and the administration might try to be, there is no hope of moving progressive legislation through a Republican Senate. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned us two years ago that we have to reduce greenhouse gases by 15% annually worldwide beginning immediately to avoid runaway global warming.

Thus, it all comes down to a state founded with a ban on slavery in the 1730s but which by the Civil War in 1861 had nearly half its population in bondage, including the region’s surviving Native people. As would happen later in California, the tribes of the area had been invaded—and devastated—by the Spanish military and Catholic missionaries a century before the English occupation began.

Safe to say then that Georgia, laden with a violent history, is an American microcosm, and it’s as appropriate a fulcrum for the fate of humanity as a Bowie knife, the long-blade immortalized in a slaying committed by Georgia’s best known White son, slave trader Jim Bowie. This past February’s stalking and killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga., by three White men showed that the brutality continues.

The last of the original 13 colonies to be founded and the largest state east of the Mississippi River, Georgia was needed by England as a buffer between its much older settlements to the north and Spanish Florida to the south. The rich red clay soils gave rise to major cotton plantations, and by the eve of the Civil War had a population of just above 1 million people with more than 460,000 of them enslaved.

But modern-day Georgia has seen its capital, Atlanta, elect an unbroken string of Black mayors stretching back to 1974, most of them alumni of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

In the November 2020 presidential election, Georgia was the sole southern state to vote for Biden-Harris, its VP. candidate the first HBCU graduate ever on a presidential ticket. Likewise, Atlanta Mayor Keshia Lance Bottoms, another contender for the Biden VP slot, graduated from Florida A&M, an HBCU.

Joining this sisterhood of prestigious, HBCU-educated Black women is Spelman College graduate Stacy Abrams, who was also on Biden’s short list of vice presidential possibilities. Abrams is a former state legislator who stepped down to run for governor in 2018 but lost after 534,000 voters were purged from the rolls by her opponent, then Secretary of State Brian Kemp, now the state’s governor, as exposed by journalist Greg Palast.

After her stolen election, Abrams founded FairFight.com to engage, register and turn out people to vote in 2020. Her organization is widely credited for having played a critical role in Biden’s narrow win of 14,000 votes out of nearly 5 million ballots cast. That’s a margin of just three-tenths of one percent, also known as too close for comfort.

HBCU Talladega College graduate Nikema Williams, the Georgia Democratic Party chair newly elected to Congress to succeed the late Rep. John Lewis, told Los Angeles Times reporter Jenny Jarvie:

“Stacey Abrams was able to move us to scale by making sure we have the resources to actually do the work on the ground and showing us what was possible with our votes when she was top of the ticket. But as she will also tell you herself: It was never about just her, one person or one election cycle. This is about building a multiracial coalition.”

Having convinced national Democratic Party interests that Georgia would vote for their presidential candidate for the first time since Jimmy Carter in 1976, Abrams secured funding for a full-scale field program. As a result, Georgia stands out on the 2020 election maps like a lake surrounded by lava.

Much like the planet.

Now, Rev. Raphael Warnock and investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff are the two Democrats in the Senate runoffs. Warnock seeks to defeat Republican Kelly Loeffler in a special election to fill an empty seat and Ossoff is taking on incumbent David Perdue. 

The HBCU streak continues directly in Warnock, a graduate of Morehouse College, which he attended in order to follow in the footsteps of Dr. King. In 2005, Warnock followed even further when he became senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, King’s former congregation in Atlanta.

Ossoff, who is Jewish and the son of immigrants, has had racist ads run against him by opponent Perdue. He enjoys a tangential HBCU connection, one he would never claim but is of historical interest. In the 1930s, an estimated 50 leading Jewish intellectuals fleeing Nazism in Europe found work teaching at HBCUs, according to the Minnesota-based nonprofit African American Registry. Anti-semitism in the United States also limited the refugees’ opportunities here, but Black academics valued inclusion and welcomed them into their ranks.

Humanity’s battle for survival will again come down to money versus people, rich versus poor, greed versus caring. And race. Untold amounts of cash will be dumped into advertising aimed at suburban households and non-college Whites, enough from both sides to cancel each other out, placing the weight of the outcome on campaign volunteers willing to knock on doors statewide at the height of the increasingly deadly pandemic.

It will also come down to voices. Will Biden and the Democratic Party listen to—dare I say be schooled by—the voices of the Black women who have created this life-saving opportunity? The women who have shown they know how to fight back and win. They might well be humanity’s last line of defense.

*****

Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate, coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org and can be contacted at sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com for presentations and information.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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