Raphael Warnock Under Pressure to Fulfil Promises He Made to Black Farmers in Rural Georgia

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks to Black farmers in Byromville, in Middle Georgia. Warnock, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, helped secure a $5 billion infusion into this year’s $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus relief package to help disadvantaged farmers of color. Under the Trump administration, the same farmers received only about 0.1% of what was given to American farmers through coronavirus relief. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The crowd that thronged U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock as he arrived in Middle Georgia represented a cross section of the state’s agriculture industry: They harvested cotton and corn, tended pecan trees and timberland, raised chickens and cows.

But two things tied the dozens gathered amid the tidy rows of crops at Jibb’s Vineyards on a cool recent morning. They were all Black farmers trying to navigate the pandemic-stricken landscape. And they were all tired of waiting for long-promised federal aid to ease generations of systemic inequality.

Lucius Abrams said as much as he spoke to the gathering of growers from all corners of the state. They have heard the vows before from other politicians and bureaucrats about federal aid that never came. Simply put, the Waynesboro farmer said, they had good reason to feel snake-bitten.

“If you go stick your hand in a hole and the rattlesnake bites it a first time, then you go back in a second time and stick your hand in and he bites you again, what you think he’ll do a third time?”

Such is the challenge facing Warnock as he tries to live up to expectations after a runoff victory that made him the first Black U.S. senator in Georgia history — and made him one of the top Republican targets in the 2022 election.

Hopping on the back of a pickup, Warnock opened by saying he “just dropped by to tell you that help is on the way,” and the crowd roared back: “Finally.” But later, in a more candid moment, the Democrat acknowledged the pressure of making good on the promises.

“I feel it. Even though I’m one actor in this whole process, I feel the responsibility of that, of doing everything I can to finally deliver for these people,” he said, adding it’s the reason he’s pressed agricultural officials with “absolute urgency that we get this done and we get it done right.”

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SOURCE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Greg Bluestein