The resurgence of a 1960s organization that helped Black politicians make strides in elections is now working to drive the Black vote in the Black Belt states.
The Southern Elections Fund is a North Carolina-based program aimed at mobilizing Black voters. According to its website, SEF is “fighting massive voter suppression with massive voter registration.” The SEF focuses primarily on voters in the southern Black Belt states. The Black Belt stretches across Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. According to the U.S. Census Quick Facts, the average poverty rate for these 11 states is about 18 percent compared to 14.8 percent for the United States overall.
Originally founded in 1969 by Julian Bond, the SEF originally assisted in electing local and state level candidates for office in the south. In 1970 the SEF aided in the elections of three Blacks in South Carolina and two Blacks in Alabama to being the first ever Black elected officials to those states’ legislatures since the end of Reconstruction. Throughout the early 1970s, Bond’s organization provided funds and advice to more than 800 candidates, 70 percent of whom were elected to office.
In 2014 Bond, along with Benjamin Jealous, brought the group back to fight voter suppression and support progressive policies in the south. The SEF provides tools from Rock The Vote on its website to allowing voters to register to vote as well as information about where to vote and the candidates on the ballot. Rock The Vote is a voting activist group working to push young voters out to the polls.
In 2014 Jealous published a report, “True South: Unleashing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer,” in which he emphasized the impact just a small percentage of minority voters can have on elections: “Our analysis shows that registering just 30 percent of eligible unregistered Black voters or other voters of color could shift the political calculus in a number of Black Belt states, helping Blacks elect candidates who share their concerns or alternatively, forcing all candidates to pay attention to the community’s concerns. Registering 60 percent or 90 percent would change the political calculus in an even greater number of states.”
Issues of voter suppression continue to hinder minority voters even today. Black Belt states North Carolina and Texas have both recently made headlines regarding their strict voter ID laws that disproportionately impact minorities.
Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP (the youngest person to ever lead the organization), currently serves as the SEF board’s chairman. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, where he tracks political trends affecting human and civil rights. A former journalist, Jealous also speaks out about social justice issues, penning an op-ed for the New York Daily News in April 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent riots in Baltimore.
President and CEO Marvin Randolph previously served as senior vice president for campaigns at the NAACP. He also worked with Get Out The Vote, Project Vote and the Center for Community Change.
Earlier this year Jealous officially endorsed former Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders. After former DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schulz stepped down from her position, Jealous said he is “happy” to endorse Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.