By Dr. Eric W. Lee, Sr.
There is a convincing argument to be made that Georgia has contributed more to racial reconciliation than any other state in America. Some might also argue that two Black men running for US Senate is an additional sign of that progress. On the contrary, I contend that the arrival of Herschel Walker has widened and damaged the racial divide. To be clear, I am not branding all Walker supporters as racist, but race continues to hover even without a white candidate on the ballot. Why did 81% of non-White (Black, Latino, Asian, etc.) Georgians support Senator Raphael Warnock on November 8th? And why did 70% of White Georgians support Walker? For those who care about racial reconciliation, these questions cannot be avoided. I observed Walker’s emergence as a hero in the 1980s to now see him become persona non grata among people of color. I certainly do NOT speak for all non-White Georgians, but I would like to provide some context and possibly pretext to future conversations.
From 1979-1981, the Black community was traumatized by the 29 targeted deaths of Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered Children. Crack cocaine began to ravage Black families in the inner cities. In the 1980 landslide election, President Ronald Reagan pummeled Georgia’s native son, President Jimmy Carter. Despite losing the election, Carter won Georgia by 15 percentage points, representing a rare moment when Black and White Georgians voted for the same candidate in large numbers. Against the backdrop of murdered children, an escalating drug epidemic and the sting of political defeat, a superstar emerged between the hallowed hedges of Sanford Stadium at UGA. Herschel Walker gave children like me an escape from all the oppressive headlines. When Walker took flight headfirst over the line of scrimmage, soaring above his blockers and the men assigned to stop him, he unified GA. He was the exemplary Black man, the embodiment of the American work ethic and a model for racial integration. He symbolized that the American dream was accessible to all. So while Muhammed Ali was an aging, ailing former champion who held on too long and MJ was just a high school basketball player with no national profile, Black children in GA wanted to be #34! Walker was our hero. Heroes are sacred, important and impactful especially for Black boys living in GA in 1980. For these reasons, I take no pleasure in witnessing the daily incoherent buffoonery that is masquerading as a viable candidate for US Senate.
Do you wonder why so many Black voters despise Walker’s candidacy or why there’s such a bitter reaction to those “Run Herschel Run” pins and yard signs? Walker’s campaign has undermined three major institutions that have been the building block of African American advancement since the abolition of slavery: HBCUs, the Black Church and the Black Family.
Academic achievement is synonymous with Black excellence and Black dignity. Walker, a man who fraudulently misrepresented his academic success, was handpicked to challenge Raphael Warnock, a proven scholar with an earned Ph.D. In most cases, professionals lose their jobs for misrepresenting academic credentials, but Walker!s infractions were overlooked by 1.9M voters. Warnock’s commitment to
scholarship is well documented as a graduate of the prestigious Morehouse College. HBCU’s teach that intellectual curiosity is a prerequisite for leadership. This is the standard at Georgia’s HBCUs: Albany State, Clark Atlanta, Fort Valley State, Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse, Morris Brown, Savannah State and Spelman College. Has the Walker campaign worked to obtain the political support of these academic communities as he seeks to lead all the people of GA?
Secondly, Walker’s supporters state that his “deep abiding Christian faith” is what qualifies him most for public office. For many Georgians, Walker, not the Rev. Dr. Warnock, is the “Christian” choice. Walker has baselessly attacked the pastoral leadership of Warnock and the congregation he leads. Ironically that congregation is the iconic and historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where MLK, Sr. and Dr. MLK, Jr. both served with distinction during America’s turbulent civil rights era. Dr. King’s mother, Mrs. Alberta King, was assassinated while playing the organ inside that very church. When Walker attacks Warnock as a faith leader, he attacks the exhaustive contribution made by Black churches even to this day. Walker has made it acceptable to diminish, devalue and degrade the Black church experience. What Black churches and leaders have the Walker campaign acknowledged or engaged as he seeks to lead all the people of GA?
Finally, Walker speaks most spiritedly about failures within the Black family. More than 70% of Black children are born to unwed mothers. There are numerous economic and social consequences from the epidemic of fatherlessness. It is a popular talking point among conservatives to assign blame for the wealth gap, education gap and value gap in Black communities. Yet, when Walker was exposed as a neglectful, abusive husband and absentee father with at least three publicly unacknowledged children, 1.9M Georgians still voted for him despite the deafening hypocrisy. The self avowed family man has decried being personally attacked by the media and Democratic Party operatives for the purpose of political gain. The truth is more devastating. Walker’s most noxious personal attacks have come from within his own family, the Black residents of his hometown of Wrightsville and his own political party. What is the Walker campaign’s policy proposal to address the unique challenges that impoverished families face as he seeks to lead all the people of GA?
Walker’s campaign is a cynical and obnoxious attempt to convert celebrity into a 6- year term to represent the complex needs of 10.8M Georgians. His rallies are a minstrel show run amuck. Yet, he has come perilously close to the levers of national power. As the campaign comes to a close, the very people that the Walker campaign has intentionally omitted are “hunkering down” in one last goal line stance to help Georgia avert calamity. To be clear, Black Georgians are not rejecting conservative values when they oppose Walker. Georgia’s non-White voters in large numbers are rejecting the pomposity and mockery of a Black man from central casting who performs in Black face.
Dr. Eric W. Lee, Sr. is Senior Pastor of Springfield Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia.