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African-American Voters Turned Out In Alabama's U.S. Senate Election

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

African-American voters turned out in large numbers to vote for Democrat Doug Jones in yesterday's special U.S. Senate election in Alabama. And it appears that that African-American turnout was a big part of his win over Roy Moore. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott reports.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: When Doug Jones took the stage for his victory speech in Birmingham, he thanked his family, his friends, his staff and voters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOUG JONES: It was every community. You know, I keep hearing about the different communities in this state. The African-American community, thank you.

(CHEERING)

GASSIOTT: Nearly 30 percent of voters were African-American - a big increase from previous years. And exit polls show they voted overwhelmingly for Jones - 96 percent. Out on the campaign trail, Jones, who is white, talked a lot about inclusivity.

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JONES: This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which zip code you live in, is going to get a fair shake.

GASSIOTT: That message, along with a focus on specific policies, resonated with voters like Lee Provo of Montgomery.

LEE PROVO: Jones, you know, he's for education, you know, the Affordable Care Act. So I have to give him those attributes.

GASSIOTT: Behind the scenes, the Jones campaign was heavily focused on turning out black voters. In the final stretch, Jones crisscrossed the state with African-American political heavyweights, athletes and entertainers. They stopped at churches and historically black colleges and universities. Jeremy Jordan thinks having prominent black supporters helped Jones. Jordan works at a YMCA near Rosa Parks' former home in Montgomery. He says there's a lot of complacency here among black voters in their 20s.

JEREMY JORDAN: I look at our younger generation, and they won't get out and vote. And that's just from talking to people myself.

GASSIOTT: As Republicans have won in bigger and bigger numbers statewide, African-Americans' political influence has faded some since the civil rights era. In recent years, the Republican-controlled legislature has passed voting laws many blacks see as discriminatory. Richard Bailey is a historian who's written extensively about African-American history in Alabama.

RICHARD BAILEY: And for that reason, African-Americans have said that we need to get out to vote. We need to get out and flex our political muscle. We need to get out and ensure that our concerns are being met.

GASSIOTT: Bailey says that Jones and Democrats need to make voting rights and the economic well-being of African-Americans a higher priority.

BAILEY: Look them straight in the eye and say, what can I, as your U.S. senator, do to advance your well-being and listen to those people and say, now this is what I can promise you I can do. Then you've got the right person in the office.

GASSIOTT: Jones has three years in office before voters - both black and white - will weigh in on his performance. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Troy, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF GELKA'S "EAU ROUGE PT. 1") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.