Jun 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Black Senate candidates could make history in 2020

Clockwise from top left: Mike Espy, Joy-Ann Reid, Jaime Harrison, Royce West, Raphael Warnock, Charles Booker.
Clockwise from top left: Mike Espy, Joy-Ann Reid, Jaime Harrison, Royce West, Raphael Warnock, Charles Booker.

There are five black men running for U.S. Senate in the South as Democrats who could not only make history, but are using this unique moment to have difficult, intimate conversations about being black in America.

Why it matters: There have only been 10 black senators in U.S. history, and it wasn't until 2013 that two African Americans simultaneously served in the Senate.

  • Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) currently serve.

The big picture: For the country, this moment isn’t just about addressing and rectifying the issue of police brutality against black Americans; it’s about rethinking and reforming the very institutions and systems that have come to define our country through the racial inequities they impose.

  • It's that calculus that's changing who's running and who the country thinks is the right type of person to fill these roles and work on these long-term issues.

The Southern five:

  • Mississippi: Former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy
  • South Carolina: Former SC Democratic Party chair Jaime Harrison
  • Kentucky: State Rep. Charles Booker
  • Georgia: Rev. Raphael Warnock, who gave the eulogy at the private funeral service for Rayshard Brooks. Warnock is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor.
  • Texas: State Sen. Royce West

And in Michigan, businessman and veteran John James is running as a Republican.

  • “We need the first-hand lived experience of somebody who understands what it’s like to walk around in black skin and recognizes the urgency of the situation demands action, not more talk,” he told MLive.

Between the lines: America's lack of black senators is particularly jarring in the South.

  • Mississippi is 38% black
  • Louisiana is 33%
  • Georgia is 32%
  • Alabama and South Carolina are at 27%
  • North Carolina is 22%
  • Tennessee and Florida are 17%
  • Arkansas is 16%
  • Texas is 13%
  • Kentucky is 8%

The bottom line: “In a country that has never had two black senators from the same state serve at the same time, hope is right here standing before you," Harrison said this year at an MLK Day event in Columbia, South Carolina.

Editor's note: This post has been corrected to remove the incorrect information that State Rep. Charles Booker was a former principal.

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