The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Long before sinking Roy Moore’s candidacy, black women in Alabama were a force for change

A woman supporting Democrat Doug Jones reacts during an election-night watch party in Birmingham, Ala. Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore to win an open Senate seat in a deeply conservative state. (John Bazemore/AP)
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When Democrat Doug Jones upset Republican Roy Moore Tuesday night in Alabama’s special election for a U.S. Senate seat, Twitter exploded with tributes to black women for helping Jones win in a traditionally Republican state.

Ninety-eight percent of black women voted for Jones, while most white women — including those with college degrees — supported Moore, who’d been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls decades ago.

In the aftermath of the victory for Jones, the hashtag #BlackWomen began trending on Twitter:

@KaniJJackson wrote “62 years ago a Black Woman in Alabama refused to give up her bus seat to a racist. Yesterday #BlackWomen in Alabama refused to give a Senate seat to a pedophile.”

Long before Tuesday’s special election, black women have been a force in Alabama. Trailblazers from the state have included everyone from Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to fly on the space shuttle, to Condoleezza Rice, who became the first black woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State.

Alabama has produced some of the country’s most renowned female civil rights leaders.

“Black women, what we did in the Doug Jones campaign, follows in a proud tradition,” said Lecia Brooks, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.

The effort to get African Americans to the polls on Tuesday reminded Brooks, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, of the work done by Amelia Boynton Robinson. She was a civil rights activist in Alabama who led voting drives and became the first black woman in the state to run for Congress in 1964.

Boynton Robinson was severely beaten by police during the “Bloody Sunday” protest on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Ala., in 1965. She was played by actress Lorraine Toussaint in the film “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay.

“Amelia Boynton was the woman who brought Doctor King to Selma,” said Brooks. “She organized black folks to go to the courthouse in Selma and demand to be registered to vote. The whole Selma story is owed to Amelia Boynton.” In 1934, Boynton had become one of the few African American women registered to vote in Selma.

In 2015, she accompanied President Obama across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma march. She died that same year at 104.

Rosa Parks helped spark the civil rights movement when she was arrested in Montgomery on Dec. 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. A decade earlier, she led a national campaign against sexual assaults on black women.

The gang rape was horrific. The NAACP sent Rosa Parks to investigate.

In her personal papers, loaned to the Library of Congress, after she died at the age of 92 on Oct. 24, 2004, Parks described growing up in rural Alabama. As a child, she often stayed awake at night with her grandfather, Sylvester Edwards, who used a shotgun to guard against Ku Klux Klan members who roamed at night, terrorizing black communities.

In a brief biographical sketch, Parks wrote: “I wanted to see him kill a Ku-Kluxer. He declared that the first to invade our home would surely die.”

Black Power movement activist Angela Yvonne Davis grew up in Birmingham. When she was five, white segregationists firebombed her neighbors’ home.

“Bombing soon became such a constant that this section of Birmingham gained the nickname “Dynamite Hill,” according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

In 1970, she was accused of kidnapping, murder and conspiracy in California, after a shootout at the Marin County Courthouse.

“For 14 months she was held without bail,”  according to a 1980 Washington Post article. Protests marches were staged around the world, with people demanding “Free Angela.”

She was eventually released on a $102,000 bond and acquitted at trial. In 1980, Davis ran for vice president on the Communist Party, U.S.A., ticket.

Coretta Scott King marched beside her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., during the civil rights movement and endured the threats and abuse that came with demanding an end to segregation and racism.

‘You are done’: A secret letter to Martin Luther King Jr. sheds light on FBI’s malice

After her husband’s assassination in 1968, Coretta Scott King continued working for equal rights and nonviolent social change. “Mrs. King spearheaded the massive educational and lobbying campaign to establish Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday,” according to the King Center. “In 1983, an act of Congress instituted the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, which she chaired for its duration.”

Read more Retropolis: 

Doug Jones triumphs in an Alabama Senate race that conjured a deadly church bombing

A white mother went to Alabama to fight for civil rights. The Klan killed her for it.

Missouri v. Celia, a Slave: She killed the white master raping her, then claimed self-defense

Thurgood Marshall asked an ex-Klan member to help him make Supreme Court history

The day President Reagan comforted a black family who had a KKK cross burned on its lawn

Who killed Alberta Jones, Louisville’s first black female prosecutor?