Raphael Warnock honors the journey of his 82-year-old mother, who as a teen 'used to pick somebody else's cotton'

As the Rev. Raphael Warnock makes history by being elected the first Black US senator from Georgia, he’s thinking of the remarkable journey of his mother.

Verlene Warnock spent her summers picking cotton and tobacco as a teen in Waycross, Georgia, in the 1950s before becoming a pastor.
“Because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” Warnock said in a speech shortly after midnight Wednesday.
Her story was not uncommon. In the Jim Crow South, many poor Black people built savings by working in the fields because it was almost impossible for them to own land, said Karlos Hill, chair of African-American studies at the University of Illinois.
    Verlene Warnock, in a photo from son Raphael Warnock's Instagram account.

    At 82, Verlene Warnock still preaches at Bible and Prayer Ministries, her church in Savannah.
    And her son, the 11th of 12 children, is going to Congress.
    Raphael Warnock edged incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a hotly contested race that could dictate which party controls the Senate. Throughout his campaign, Warnock has described his candidacy, and his family’s story, as encapsulating the American dream.
    His father, the late Rev. Jonathan Warnock, was also a Pentecostal pastor and a World War II veteran who salvaged abandoned cars. He and his wife of 42 years struggled to raise their 12 kids in public housing in the coastal city of Savannah, which Warnock says taught him the value of hard work.
    “The man who saw the value in a junk car that another person had thrown away during the week preached to people who themselves felt discarded,” Warnock told CNN last month.
    Warnock followed in his father’s footsteps and is a senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King served as co-pastor. Black voters in Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, and its suburbs turned out in big numbers to help him win the seat.
    Warnock, 51, will become the first Black Democrat to represent a Southern state in the Senate.
      In an election year marked by bitterness and division, the election of a Black Southerner to the Senate is stunning, Warnock said.
      “That’s why I love this country so much and I refuse to give in to the forces of cynicism,” he said. “It takes hard work. Change is slow, often it comes in fits and starts.”

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