ATLANTA — At the base of the John Lewis Mural in Atlanta, a small group of women raised a champagne toast to the depiction of the former civil rights icon after it was announced Joe Biden would be the next President of the United States.
Johnette Brooks was among them. The Decatur resident couldn’t contain her emotions.
"I am exuberant,” she said. "Absolutely exuberant.”
Brooks was one of hundreds of Georgians who took to the streets of Atlanta after the call was made that Biden and Kamala Harris were on their way to the White House. The revelers confident that the 46th president would make good on his promise to “restore the soul of this nation.”
Georgia shocked the nation with its sudden shift from red to blue when a wave of voters chose to reject President Donald Trump’s reelection bid and back a Democrat — something that hasn’t happened since 1992. Although ballots were still being tallied five days after polls closed on Tuesday, Biden had a lead of more than 10,000 votes.
Georgia's Black leaders honored
Atlanta itself was no surprise as votes counted in the metro areas put Biden over the top. But the changing suburbs which have long been a Republican-stronghold was the linchpin in Biden’s lead. At the end of the day on Election Day last Tuesday, Trump led Biden by 300,000 votes but as absentee ballots can in, Biden slowly caught up, eventually surpassing the Republican.
While celebrations rang across the country, Georgia garnered national attention in a way that it hadn’t in the past: Black leaders from the Peach State were being praised for their work in registering mobilizing voters and flipping the state blue.
If John Lewis and Stacey Abrams were not household names across the nation before the 2020 general election, they are now. From Atlanta to Washington, D.C. voters who celebrated Biden’s win chanted for the two.
Atlanta resident Riley Finnigan made stops on Saturday at both Lewis’ funeral and the large celebration at 10th and Piedmont in midtown with signs that read, “Thank you, Stacey Abrams” and “Thank you, John Lewis.”
“For me, Stacey Abrams is in largely responsible for what's happened in Georgia. She represents empowering a lot of people in the South, who haven't been heard from going back for far too long now,” Finnigan said. “I'm incredibly, incredibly grateful for what she's done for Georgia and for America.”
After her unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2018, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action — a voter registration and mobilization organization — that fanned out across the state targeting new voters and voters of color.
The organization estimated in September that in the last two years, 800,000 new voters have been added to the rolls in Georgia — 45% of those under the age of 30 and 49% people of color.
“When you look at those two groups, those are disproportionately likely to be Democratic voters — and they are not alone” Abrams said in September. “We have seen shifts among white voters in the state of Georgia moving in the direction of Democrats — for the first time in a generation — and that movement is not stopping."
The weight of Georgia’s civil and voting rights history also fell on the shoulder of voters on Nov. 3. Those who were with former U.S Rep. John Lewis reported that in his final days he stressed that the 2020 general election was the “most important election ever."
Two days after the polls closed in Georgia, a batch of votes that came from Clayton County — that lay in Lewis’ Congressional 5th District — pushed Biden over the top. Nikema Williams, congresswoman-elect for the 5th Congressional District called it “poetic justice."
"I know that he is somewhere doing a happy dance in Heaven,” she said on Saturday, “Knowing that his 5th congressional district delivered Georgia for Joe Biden.”
A Vice President of firsts
While many of the celebrations were for Biden’s victory, many of the tears were for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Harris will not only be the first woman to hold the second highest political position in the country’s history but the first Black and Asian American.
“It’s everything,” Brooks said of Harris being in the White House. "Black women just have to be on our game so much more…. And it's not so much this particular moment or this particular election, but what it means for the next 50 or 100 years for all of us. Fulfilling a dream that we actually believe. We actually get to see it happen now.”
Dr. Latoya Griffin grew up in southwest Atlanta and watched her uncle be a part of the Civil Rights Movement along with John Lewis.
“Where we came from, until today — we hadn't been blue since '92 it's a huge deal,” she said. "I saw the work. My family was a part of the work. It just means the world to the native Atlantans.”
Harris will also be the first vice president who graduated from an historically black college or university and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Williams, also an AKA member, said that like Sen. David Perdue mocking Harris’ name during a Trump rally in Georgia, she too was urged to go by “Nikki” instead of Nikema when running for office.
“As a black woman in policy,” she said. “(Harris’ win) means the world to me.”
Griffin, also a member of AKA, said serving the community after college is an important part of being in the sorority.
Georgia, nation still deeply divided
But despite his win, Biden supporters were quick to recognize that there were millions of Americans who did not feel the same joy that they did. When the race was called, more than 70 million had cast their ballots for Trump's reelection.
"I think we really do have to take the time to see what 70 million people are thinking,” Brooks said. “They made a choice, for whatever reason and they have a right to make that choice just like we do. And we have to open up our minds enough to at least begin the dialogue in a non-accusatory or non-name calling way.”
Finnigan echoed the surprise at the high turnout for Trump and close margin of votes between the presidential candidates across the country.
"I definitely feel that I have to acknowledge there are more people in this country than I thought who don't see issues and the minutiae of policy the same way I do,” Finnigan said.
On the steps of the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, there were protests from Trump’s supporters, falsely urging that the election was faulty.
Trump himself has circulated unfounded claims about inaccurate counts while Republican election officials and state leaders in Georgia have tried to assure the public that there is no widespread evidence of irregularities.
Greg Leopold rallied with Trump supporters after Biden was announced the next president. He too acknowledge the deep political divides that may insurmountable going forward.
"I'm worried about this country,” he said. "I hope that we can all get along after this election. But I have a feeling we won't be able to unfortunately.”