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Black women — Hillary Clinton’s most reliable voting bloc — look beyond defeat

Members of "Mothers of the Movement," a group of women whose children were killed in encounters with police offficers, listen as Hillary Clinton speaks in Raleigh, N.C., in October. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Tamara Dial was all in for Hillary Clinton.

The 38-year-old African American mother of a 1-year-old daughter donated money and volunteered to help the first woman to win a major-party nomination become the country’s first female president.

Dial, who lives in Charlotte, knew that not all black women shared her enthusiasm. “I knew of a couple of black women who had issues with Hillary, but they were still going to vote for her,” she said.

And vote for her they did. Black women, exit polls show, were by far Clinton's strongest supporters, at 94 percent. By contrast, 53 percent of white women supported President-elect Donald Trump. This was Clinton's and the Democrats' most reliable voting bloc, and now they are trying to digest their defeat and move beyond it.

“Having lost the White House and the House and Senate and now being at risk with the Supreme Court, I think what our need will be is an energetic and aggressive defense by Democrats remaining the House and Senate,” said Jessica Byrd, founder of the D.C. consulting firm Three Point Strategies. “They’d better fight like hell to be a firewall to legislation that could hurt us.”

2016 Election exit polls: How the vote shifted

In 2012, black women voted at a higher rate than any racial or gender group, and 96 percent of them voted to reelect President Obama. Black women made up a similar share of the electorate for this presidential contest, but they didn’t have as much help from other segments of the Obama coalition, including black men, Hispanics and Asian Americans, all of whom voted at higher rates for Trump than they did four years ago for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

“I was devastated when she lost,” Dial said. “This whole Trump thing has me frightened. It has me frighten because I have a 1-year-old daughter and I’m scared about how she’s going to be treated. I’m scared about the rights of all women.”

Trump's victory Tuesday was the realization of black women's worst political fears. In exit polls from Election Day, 76 percent of black women said they were "scared" of a Trump win; in a Gallup poll in July, 72 percent of black women said they were "strongly" afraid of what would happen if their preferred candidate did not win the election.

No other group came close to that level of worry about a Trump presidency, either in the Gallup poll or in Tuesday’s exit poll. In the exit poll, 56 percent of black men, 34 percent of white women and 26 percent of white men said that they were scared of Trump winning. Just under half of Latinas and 40 percent of Latino men said they feared a Trump presidency.

Feminist scholar Brittney Cooper described black female voters as both pragmatists and visionaries. “We have a vision for the kind of future we want to build, but also an acute sense of taking care of the least of these, such as protecting funding for schools for our kids and benefits like Medicare and Social Security for the elderly. We always vote with those things in mind,” she said.

Clinton enjoyed solid support among black voters during both the primary and general-election campaigns, although young African Americans were less enthusiastic about her than they were about Obama. Exit polls show 83 percent of black voters under 30 cast ballots for Clinton; four years ago, 91 percent of young black voters backed Obama.

The generational divide between older and younger African Americans over Clinton’s candidacy was embodied in one of the key issues affecting black communities in recent years — the deaths of unarmed African Americans during encounters with law enforcement officers. Some of the women whose children were killed in such incidents campaigned extensively for Clinton under the moniker “Mothers of the Movement.” Meanwhile, many of the young activists who were leading the Black Lives Matter movement through protests and confronting the presidential candidates over their plans to address police conduct vowed publicly that they could not support Clinton. They cited her support for harsh anti-crime legislation pushed by her husband in the 1990s and her use of the term “super predator” to describe some young offenders.

These former Obama strongholds sealed the election for Trump

Dial, a classroom teacher for 16 years, said although she recalled Bill Clinton’s presidency as a period of economic prosperity, she acknowledged that the crime bill had contributed to the disproportionately high incarceration rate for black men. But Dial said that she was reassured after Clinton and her husband said last year that they regretted the damage that been done by the harsh anti-crime measures.

Like most black voters, she started out as a Clinton supporter in 2008 and this years was excited “to get this opportunity to vote for her again.”

Although she is disappointed, Dial said that she is not defeated. “I’m even more motivated to be involved. To canvass, to make calls, to make sure I encourage everyone I know to vote because 2016 has shown us that our individual vote really does matter,” Dial said. “I am not going to sit back and do nothing.”

Sandra Fletcher, a retired federal employee who lives in Florida’s Tampa Bay area, also said that members of her sorority and black women in her social circles worked hard phone banking and canvassing to elect Clinton.

“The fact that her life mission and work was about family and children, that resonated with me and with other black women,” Fletcher said. “She’s been about public service all her life.”

But most of all, Fletcher said, “my vote for her was based on her qualifications. She was the most qualified person for the job.”

Exit polls showed that 52 percent of black women said that they were excited about Clinton winning, making them the only group in which a majority of voters felt that way.

Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights, a nonpartisan group working to increase the number of black women in elected office, said an organizer in Cleveland shared a story of a cashier she encountered at a store the day after the election. The young woman, who was wearing a “#BlackWomenVote” button, lamented that her vote hadn’t mattered.

“Our organizer told her, ‘Your vote does matter, regardless of who your candidate was.’ ” Carr said.

The next task for Higher Heights is organizing women to participate in municipal elections next year and the next round of federal elections two years from now. The group also will poll black women online about which issues are important to them and write an open letter to the new White House and Congress.

Byrd, of Three Point Strategies, said defending legislation and policies put in place by Obama will be a priority among black female political organizers.

“In the same way that the tea party of 2009 and 2010 rose up and created this new type of conservative energy,” she said, “we’d better be investing and growing the same type of progressive energy so we can defend ourselves against the extremism that’s coming.”

Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.