Raphael Warnock becomes Georgia’s first black senator

A Democratic pastor who leads the congregation at Martin Luther King Jr.’s church and whose mother used to pick cotton has been elected Georgia’s first black Senator.

Raphael Warnock, 51, claimed victory in the first of the state’s two Senate runoffs Wednesday, defeating Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler and becoming the first Democrat winner in 20 years. 

‘The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,’ he told his supporters last night.

‘We proved with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.’ 

Georgia is still awaiting the result in the second runoff but it looks likely Democrat Jon Ossoff will oust Republican David Perdue in that race too in a brutal night for the GOP. 

Warnock’s victory is a symbol of a striking shift in Georgia’s politics as the swelling number of diverse, college-educated voters flex their power in the heart of the Deep South. 

Raphael Warnock with his parents Verlene and Jonathan Warnock after his graduation from Morehouse College

Raphael Warnock with his parents Verlene and Jonathan Warnock after his graduation from Morehouse College

Raphael Warnock with his parents Verlene and Jonathan Warnock after his graduation from Morehouse College 

Raphael Warnock and his now ex-wife Ouleye Ndoye pictured together in September 2018 at Dr. Christine King Farris 90th Birthday Celebration in Atlanta. The pair divorced in May and shortly before the election police bodycam footage emerged showing a dispute between the pair during which Ndoye alleged Warnock ran over her foot with his car. He was never charged

Raphael Warnock and his now ex-wife Ouleye Ndoye pictured together in September 2018 at Dr. Christine King Farris 90th Birthday Celebration in Atlanta. The pair divorced in May and shortly before the election police bodycam footage emerged showing a dispute between the pair during which Ndoye alleged Warnock ran over her foot with his car. He was never charged

Raphael Warnock and his now ex-wife Ouleye Ndoye pictured together in September 2018 at Dr. Christine King Farris 90th Birthday Celebration in Atlanta. The pair divorced in May and shortly before the election police bodycam footage emerged showing a dispute between the pair during which Ndoye alleged Warnock ran over her foot with his car. He was never charged

His father, a veteran of the Second World War, worked as a preacher, mechanic in Savnnah

His father, a veteran of the Second World War, worked as a preacher, mechanic in Savnnah

His father, a veteran of the Second World War, worked as a preacher, mechanic in Savnnah 

It follows Biden’s win in November, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992.

The Associated Press declared Warnock the winner after an analysis of outstanding votes showed there was no way for Loeffler to catch up to his lead.

Warnock's mother Verlene who used to pick tobacco and cotton during the summers

Warnock's mother Verlene who used to pick tobacco and cotton during the summers

Warnock’s mother Verlene who used to pick tobacco and cotton during the summers

Warnock’s edge is likely to grow as more ballots are counted, many of which were in Democratic-leaning areas.

The divorced father-of-two acknowledged his improbable victory in a message to supporters, citing his family’s experience with poverty. 

He grew up in the projects of Savannah with 11 brothers and sisters.

His father Jonathan, a veteran of the Second World War, worked as a preacher, mechanic and his mother Verlene used to pick tobacco and cotton during the summers.

‘My family was short on money, but long on love and faith,’ Warnock wrote earlier this year. ‘They (his parents) worked hard for what they had and saw the value in what others had discarded.’

Energised by his parents belief that he could do anything, Warnock gained a scholarship to the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta. 

He later earned a doctorate in philosophy from Union Theological Seminary, a school affiliated with Columbia University in Manhattan.   

In the 1990s, Warnock worked as a youth pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and protested against Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s workfare program to cut benefits and get people into employment.

‘We are worried that workfare is being used to displace other workers who receive respectable compensation,’ Warnock told the New York Times in 1997.

‘We are concerned that poor people are being put into competition with other poor people, and in that respect, we think workfare is a hoax.’ 

Rev. Raphael Warnock delivers the eulogy for Rayshard Brooks' funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in June

Rev. Raphael Warnock delivers the eulogy for Rayshard Brooks' funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in June

Rev. Raphael Warnock delivers the eulogy for Rayshard Brooks’ funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in June 

In 2013, Warnock delivered the benediction at the public prayer service at President Barack Obama's second inauguration. Obama is pictured giving the eulogy at the funeral service for the late Rep. John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 30, 2020

In 2013, Warnock delivered the benediction at the public prayer service at President Barack Obama's second inauguration. Obama is pictured giving the eulogy at the funeral service for the late Rep. John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 30, 2020

In 2013, Warnock delivered the benediction at the public prayer service at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Obama is pictured giving the eulogy at the funeral service for the late Rep. John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 30, 2020

In the early 2000s, he moved to become the senior pastor of senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

And in 2006, he was appointed the leader of MLK’s former congregation at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta – the youngest senior pastor since its founding.

‘Fourteen years ago, the kid who grew up in the projects was called to Martin Luther King Jr.’s pulpit,’ Warnock wrote in June.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gesturing toward heaven while delivering sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He worked at the church as co-pastor alongside his father from 1960 until his assassination in 1968

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gesturing toward heaven while delivering sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He worked at the church as co-pastor alongside his father from 1960 until his assassination in 1968

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gesturing toward heaven while delivering sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He worked at the church as co-pastor alongside his father from 1960 until his assassination in 1968

Martin Luther Sr. helped lead the church with his father-in-law in the 1920s before taking over in 1931. 

Thirty years later his own son Martin Luther King Jr. would join him at the church, working as co-pastor until his assassination in 1968.

King’s funeral was held at Ebenezer on April 9, 1968. 

Warnock took up the mantle of the great history of the Ebenezer pastors in setting out the stall for social justice and invited Barack Obama to speak at the church in the early days of the 2008 presidential campaign.

In 2013, Warnock delivered the benediction at the public prayer service for Obama’s second inauguration. 

‘Somebody asked why a pastor thinks he should serve in the Senate,’ Warnock said in a recent campaign video.

‘Well, I committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential. I’ve always thought my impact doesn’t stop at the church door. That’s actually where it starts.’ 

According to the Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Warnock is the first member of Congress from the South since Reconstruction to ‘explicitly profess the spiritual tradition of the social gospel as envisioned and designed by people of African descent.’ 

Democrats were last night banking on the ‘activist pastor’ to come good, with thousands in the state furious about the division they believe Trump has sown and the healthcare response to Covid-19.

Democratic Senate candidate Reverend Raphael Warnock speaks during a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15, 2020

Democratic Senate candidate Reverend Raphael Warnock speaks during a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15, 2020

Democratic Senate candidate Reverend Raphael Warnock speaks during a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15, 2020

It’s also a state where around three-quarters of the population regularly attend church.

Warnock is firmly of the view that the word of Jesus Christ should guide politics and that politics is essential to the work of the church.  

‘What we’re really talking about is a renaissance of the Kingian tradition, which is really bigger than the left or the right, and red and blue,’ he told The Atlantic.

‘It’s a deep human-rights tradition that is … informed by Christian tradition, but is not limited to it.’ 

His opponent Loeffler tried to paint Warnock as a radical, something which MLK experienced.

But it’s something which Warnock has learned to take in his stride.

‘I’m an activist preacher,’ he said earlier this year. ‘I’m a Matthew 25 Christian, where Jesus says, “I was hungry, and you fed me.”‘

His policies are progressive: he opposes all abortion restrictions, supports gay marriage, opposes concealed carry of firearms, talks often about living wages for workers and refers to the death penalty as ‘the last fail-safe for white supremacy.’

From 2016 to 2020, Warnock was married to Oulèye Ndoye, with whom he shares two children.

The couples’ divorce was finalized in May, two months earlier Ndoye accused Warnock of running over her foot with a car while trying to get out an argument.

They were disputing whether their two children should be allowed to travel to Senegal to Ndoye’s relatives. 

Police were called to their home, and Warnock was caught on camera telling the officer his wife called the police on him, alleging that he had run over her foot.

Footage of the incident was released shortly before the runoff election.  

Warnock and Ndoye, pictured in their 2014 wedding, have two children together

Warnock and Ndoye, pictured in their 2014 wedding, have two children together

Warnock and Ndoye, pictured in their 2014 wedding, have two children together

Ouleye Ndoye, 35, told police that she 'tried to keep the way that he acts under wraps'

Ouleye Ndoye, 35, told police that she 'tried to keep the way that he acts under wraps'

Ouleye Ndoye, 35, told police that she ‘tried to keep the way that he acts under wraps’

Medical officials did not find visible signs of injury on his wife’s foot.

A police report, referring to Grady Memorial Hospital first-responders, noted that an inspection of Ndoye’s foot showed no broken bones, swelling or contusions.

Warnock was never charged with a crime.

When her accusations were first made public, in March, Warnock addressed the incident in a sermon.

‘God looks on the heart. We live on the outside. God knows what’s happening on the inside,’ he said.

‘And while divorce is not ideal, divorce is not the worst thing that can happen to you. So pray for us.

‘The second thing I want to say to you – and I hope you will hear me because I’m going to say it once. I’ve been here 15 years, almost 15 years now. I want you to know that I am the man that you have known me to be. The work that we’ve done together in public reflects my values and who I am in private. Same man in public and in private.’

Rev. Raphael Warnock’s full victory speech 

Thank you so very much. I come before you tonight, as a proud American, and as a son of Georgia. My roots are planted deeply in Georgia soil. A child who grew up in the Kayton Homes housing projects of Savannah, Georgia, number 11 out of 12 children, a proud graduate of Morehouse College, and the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of Martin Luther King Jr. and Congressman John Lewis. A son of my late father, who was a pastor, a veteran, and a small businessman, and my mother who was a teenager growing up in Waycross, Georgia, used to pick somebody else’s cotton. But the other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States Senator. So I come before you tonight as a man who knows that the improbable journey that led me to this place in this historic moment in America could only happen here. We were told that we couldn’t win this election. But tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work, and the people by our side, anything is possible. May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream. And so, Georgia I am honored by the faith that you have shown in me. And I promise you this tonight, I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia. No matter who you cast your vote for in this election, in this moment in American history, Washington has a choice to make. In fact, all of us have a choice to make. Will we continue to divide, district and dishonor one another? Or will we love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Will we play political games, while real people suffer? Or will we win righteous fights together, standing shoulder to shoulder, for the good of Georgia, for the good of our country? Will we seek to destroy one another as enemies or heed the call towards the common good building together, what Dr. King called the beloved community? Here’s what I know: I know that we can beat this pandemic with science and good old fashioned common sense. I know we can rebuild a fairer economy by respecting the dignity of work and the workers who do it, an economy that honors those whom we now call essential workers, by paying them an essential wage and providing for them essential benefits. And so to everyone out there struggling today, whether you voted for me or not, know this, I hear you, I see you and everyday I’m in the United States Senate, I will fight for you. I will fight for your family. To our supporters, our incredible campaign team, and to my family, thank you from the bottom of my heart. And to every Georgian who marched with us, organized with us, prayed for us, fought for us, believed in us, or shared their story and their pain with us, thank you for all of your love and support. In the words of Dr. King who grew up just a few blocks from where I’m sitting right now, “We are tied in a single garment of destiny. We are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” I remember my dad, in this moment. He used to wake me up every morning at dawn. It was morning, but it was still dark. It’s dark right now. But morning comes and Scripture tells us that weeping may endure for the night, the joy comes in the morning. Let us rise up. Greet the morning and meet the challenges of this moment. Together we can do the necessary work and win the future for all of our children. Thank you. God bless you in Georgia. God bless these United States of America.

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