National News

Why Black Voters Backed Jones: ‘It’s a Matter of Character for Us’

Posted December 13, 2017 11:28 a.m. EST

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Devon Crawford, 24, a black Alabamian, came home from the University of Chicago to vote against Republican Roy S. Moore in the special Senate election here.

Crawford, who is earning a master’s degree in divinity, was standing near the stage at the victory party for Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones, arguing that Moore’s Christianity did not square with the vision of faith shared by so many black civil rights leaders whose blood was shed on Alabama soil.

Moore’s version, he said, “sanctifies the truth-making power of white men” and was “really just a masquerade for white supremacy.”

African-American voters like Crawford played a crucial role in Moore’s stunning upset loss Tuesday. According to CNN exit polling, 30 percent of the electorate was African-American, with 96 percent of them voting for Jones. A remarkable 98 percent of black women voters supported Jones. The share of black voters Tuesday was higher than the share in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was on the ballot.

Many black voters at Jones' jubilant victory celebration here echoed Crawford in saying they had long harbored a distaste for the fiery brand of evangelical politics that Moore had relied on to court working-class whites. But many others said that the Jones campaign uncorked the intense feelings of alarm and distaste that many African-Americans harbor toward President Donald Trump, who had given Moore his full-throated endorsement in the campaign’s final days.

Joanice Thompson, 68, said that she and many of her fellow black voters were worried that Trumpism and a Republican-led Congress would chip away at protections for poor and working-class Americans. “But it’s a matter of character for us, too,” she said.

“Trump has disrespected the United States,” added Walladean Streeter, 68, a retired government worker. “How can you teach children in high school and college to respect their leaders when he’s acting like a child?”

Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor, entered the race as a not particularly well-known face for many black voters here. But he had a deeply resonant story to tell them, having successfully prosecuted two white Klansmen for their roles in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four African-American girls.

As Moore was hobbled by allegations that he had engaged in inappropriate relations with teenage girls while in his 30s, Jones' campaign coffers grew fat, and in late November his campaign manager said the team would try to make contact — by mail, phone or otherwise — with every likely black voter five or six times before Election Day.

The campaign and its allies looked for ways to reach out to black voters without stirring up white Republicans. Jones toured black churches in Selma with Rep. Terri Sewell, an African-American congresswoman. Other high-profile black supporters made appearances on his behalf, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Toward the end of the campaign, Obama recorded a robocall for Jones, and former basketball star Charles Barkley, an Alabama native, urged voters to reject Moore at a campaign event on Monday. “We’ve got to, at some point, we got to stop looking like idiots to the nation,” Barkley said.

Michael Nabors, 54, and his wife Ella, 55, were among the black voters soaking up the Democratic good cheer after news agencies called the race for Jones.

“We knew the world was looking at us,” Michael Nabors said.

Nabors said that black voters were paying attention to Moore’s comments in September, in which he said that America was last “great” during the days when slavery was legal. He said they paid attention when Moore brought Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, to campaign for him. He said that they paid attention to the allegations brought by the women who said Moore had consorted with them when they were young.

And he said they paid attention to Jones' most famous case as a prosecutor.

“Those four little girls are on their feet tonight at 16th Street Baptist Church, celebrating,” he said. “They’re celebrating in spirit.”