For the Rev. Jimmy Gates Sr., the 2008 presidential election year was one to remember — and not just because it yielded a historic result as the nation elected its first Black president.
The pastor of Zion Hill Baptist Church in Cleveland recalls how, on the last Sunday of early voting before the general election, he and his congregation traveled in a caravan of packed buses, vans and cars to the city’s Board of Elections office and joined a line of voters that seemed to stretch a mile.
“What a sight to see,” Gates said. “Seniors, middle-aged people, young people.”
In recent election cycles, Black church congregations across the country have launched get-out-the-vote campaigns commonly referred to as “souls to the polls.” To counteract racist voter suppression tactics that date back to the Jim Crow era, early voting in the Black community is stressed from pulpits nearly as much as it is by the candidates seeking their support.
But voter mobilization in Black church communities will look much different in 2020, due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic that has infected millions across the U.S. and has taken a disproportionate toll on Black America.