RIVERDALE, Ga. — Decades before Joseph R. Biden Jr. flipped Georgia for the Democrats, Felicia Davis was a one-stop political organizing dynamo in Clayton County, canvassing for issues rather than candidates, for her community rather than a political party.
The boom of her voice and the clarity of her convictions command respect. In her operation, even the teenagers are paid $15 an hour to knock on doors and distribute literature. Almost everyone is diligent: She is not someone to disappoint.
“I am unapologetically Black,” Ms. Davis said. “My agenda is Black. My community is Black. My county is Black. So what I do is Black. And for 20 years, we’ve been trying to tell people what was possible.”
When Georgia turned blue for Mr. Biden this year after record voter turnout, it validated the political vision and advocacy of a group of Black women who have led a decades-long organizing effort to transform the state’s electorate. Democrats celebrated their work registering new voters, canvassing and engaging in long-term political outreach. The achievement seemed to confirm mantras that have become commonplace in liberal politics, like “trust Black women” and “Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party.”
But the same women tell a more complicated story about their relationship with elected Democrats, national campaign officials and prominent political groups. For years, they said, their political vision was demeaned and distrusted. Donors and campaigns balked at the idea that Georgia was a battleground state worth investing in and that the organizers had picked up on demographic and political changes in their home state that others had missed.
Now, with Georgia at the center of the political universe ahead of two pivotal Senate runoff elections in January, the organizers are asking Democrats: Will you embrace our approach now?
“We weren’t surprised that Georgia turned blue, because we’ve been working on it for over 15 years,” said Deborah Scott, the founder of Georgia Stand Up. When she started the group in 2004, she said, it was hard to persuade philanthropy groups and political foundations that focus on grass-roots organizing to consider Georgia.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” Ms. Davis said. “Because here, we’re not just women, we’re Southern women. And we’re not just Southern women, we’re Southern Black women.”
The most famous member of the club is Stacey Abrams, the former state lawmaker and candidate for governor who founded a voter registration group called the New Georgia Project. But there are many others — like Ms. Davis and Helen Butler, who was mentored by the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, the late civil rights leader — who have spent years working to turn out voters in Georgia.
No single group delivered the state to Mr. Biden or can take credit for turnout there. In a presidential race decided by a razor-thin margin in Georgia, every piece mattered: increased turnout among young voters; outreach to Black, Latino and Asian-American communities; and a rejection of President Trump by some college-educated white voters who typically vote Republican.