Warnock becomes Georgia’s first Black senator

The Rev. Raphael Warnock spent the past 15 years leading the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Rev. Raphael Warnock won one of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate runoff races, becoming the first Black senator in his state’s history.

Warnock, who spent the past 15 years leading the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, said he cannot wait to get to work.

In an emotional address early Wednesday, he vowed to work for all Georgians whether they voted for him or not, citing his personal experience with the American dream.

“A son of my late father, who was a pastor a veteran and a small businessman, and my mother, who as 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 picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” Warnock said. “We proved with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”

Warnock, 51, defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler to become the state’s first Democratic senator in more than a decade.

He grew up in Savannah in the Kayton Homes public housing project, the second youngest of 12 children. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, graduating from Morehouse College, an all-men historically Black college.

At 35 years old, Warnock became the youngest pastor of Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church. The 134-year-old church is the same one King once pastored and it’s the same church where the funeral of Rep. John Lewis, Atlanta’s civil rights icon who once marched alongside King, was held.

Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr. -- the pastor of the Bethel Church in Jacksonville, the oldest Baptist church in the state of Florida -- explained the cultural relevance Ebenezer Baptist Church represents in the Warnock’s win.

“I hope what Dr. King saw over that mountain when he had that vision was a day like today. And so, it’s really significant, Lena, because it lets us know that America has not gone as far back as the past administration wanted us to go. And it lets us know that we are still making progress even if it might be bay steps,” McKissick said. “It shows the viability of the Black church. As it relates to social consciousness and social movement. You know, so many tried to vilify the Black church in that campaign, and the fact that he has now come out on top shows that the Black church still has a power both sociologically and spiritually, politically and theologically. That’s very significant.”

McKissick is close friends with Warnock, who he has known for more than 15 years. During the election, there was a lot of controversy around the fiery language that Warnock uses in the pulpit. News4Jax asked McKissick what that kind of language means to him as a pastor.

“For me, it was not fiery language. It was proper language. I think they only called it fiery because it set on fire some of their oppressive philosophies,” McKissick said.

News4Jax also asked McKissick what he thinks is important for people to take away from Warnock’s win.

“Your vote counts. I think that’s the powerful lesson,” McKissick said. “This has let us know quite candidly why they do so much work to suppress our vote, because when we vote, we bring power. And I think this has shown us the power of our vote and the necessity of voting even beyond a presidential election.”

Warnock’s next steps include being sworn into office. Until he officially gets to work in the nation’s capital, many will revel in what Warnock calls a historic moment in America.

“May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream,” Warnock said.

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