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Souls to the polls events mobilize Black voters

Three men dressed in dark clothing and one woman walk through a parking lot.
Valerie Crowder
Rev. Julius McAllister Jr. (right) and Bishop Stephen Beasley (left) of Bethel AME Church in Tallahassee attend Souls to the Polls at the Dr. B.L. Perry Library on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022.

Black church leaders across Florida rallied congregants and community members to get out and vote over the weekend, as early voting came to a close.

Tallahassee’s “souls to the polls” event took place outside an early voting site on the South Side on Sunday, the last day of early voting in Leon County.

Reverend Julius McAllister Jr. of Bethel AME Church co-organized this year’s event.

“Our vote is an opportunity to eradicate injustice. It’s an opportunity to promote democracy," McAllister said." It’s an opportunity to promote freedom.”

"Souls to the polls" events follow a tradition dating back to the Civil Rights movement when the church played a central role in registering and mobilizing African American voters.

In Leon County, community organizers say get-out-the-vote events that took place over the weekend are expected to significantly boost Black voter turnout in the midterm elections.

On Sunday, a Souls to the Polls event was also held in Gadsden County, where early voting was also happening.

"A lot of people mean to vote, but keep putting it off," Stephen Beasley, president of the Martin Luther King Foundation, helped coordinate Tallahassee's "souls to the polls." This is to make them aware, and then put the emphasis on how important it is to vote."

Another get-out-the-vote event with a caravan to the polls took place at the Walker Ford Community Center on Saturday.

The souls to the polls event on Sunday had food, a bouncy house for children and a local radio station broadcasting live from the event.

Beasley says he expects events over the weekend to boost Black voter turnout in the county. And when events aren't happening, churches throughout the community are working to mobilize voters, he said.

"This is going in all of the precincts of the African American community, but not with the fanfare, the radio and the food. But people are voting in all of the precincts here locally," he said. "It should increase our percentage."

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.