In Alabama's Rural Black Belt, An Uphill Climb For Bernie Sanders Even though Sanders is breaking through in many places, Democrats in Greensboro, Ala. say they feel a connection to Hillary Clinton.
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In Alabama's Rural Black Belt, An Uphill Climb For Bernie Sanders

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In Alabama's Rural Black Belt, An Uphill Climb For Bernie Sanders

In Alabama's Rural Black Belt, An Uphill Climb For Bernie Sanders

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Super Tuesday will be the single biggest day in the races for the presidential nominations, and southern states will figure heavily in the voting. On the Democratic side, the region is considered a firewall for Hillary Clinton because of her strong support among African-American voters. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports from Alabama.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Greensboro, Ala., is in the heart of the black belt, named for its rich, dark soil and known as a place where the right to vote is sacred.

THERESA BURROUGHS: I'm a foot soldier.

ELLIOTT: Eighty-year-old Theresa Burroughs never misses an election.

BURROUGHS: Every time there's a vote, I go.

ELLIOTT: She marched from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote in 1965, and was a member of the Hale County Civic Improvement League, one of the nation's first grassroots civil rights organizations. Burroughs is the founder of the Safe House Black History Museum in Greensboro. It's a gray clapboard shotgun house on the edge of town.

BURROUGHS: This is the place where we kept Dr. Martin Luther King safe.

ELLIOTT: Safe from the Ku Klux Klan, targeting him on a visit to west Alabama in 1968. Burroughs says there's still a struggle for voting rights. The state has curtailed driver's license offices in the predominately African-American rural counties here, yet requires an ID to vote.

BURROUGHS: It is really not over. This is just another stage of harassing us and trying to get us to - I don't know - disappear. We're not going to do that.

ELLIOTT: Burroughs will be at the polls on Tuesday, and there's no question who she'll vote for.

BURROUGHS: Oh, yeah. It's Hillary all the way because she's taken all the steps.

ELLIOTT: She's earned the White House, Burroughs says. She never even considered voting for Bernie Sanders. Clinton has endorsements from the Democratic congresswoman here and a host of African American mayors in Alabama. Burroughs says that's because active Democrats here feel a connection to the Clintons.

BURROUGHS: You know, I can say this about Hillary. She's been here, and she knows us personally. She knows the condition.

ELLIOTT: The condition - the black belt is one of the poorest areas of the country, with double-digit unemployment and more than a quarter of residents living below the federal poverty line. As farm jobs have dwindled, towns have struggled to lure industry to replace. The historic Hale County Courthouse anchors Main Street in Greensboro. There's the furniture store, the hardware shop and a few other businesses. Some of them are run by the nonprofit hero, the Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization. The group also runs a GED program for young adults.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Who you voting for?

ELLIOTT: About a dozen students are wrapping up a day of testing and take a break to talk politics. Most are undecided - not 22-year-old Drewquita Lanier.

DREWQUITA LANIER: And I just feel like Hillary Clinton would be a good president, not just because she's a woman, but she knows a lot that low-income people needs help. So that's why I'm electing her.

ELLIOTT: These young people feel left behind.

JALISA TRAVIS: I don't feel like we have a voice for us. .

ELLIOTT: Jalisa Travis.

TRAVIS: We live. We strive. We want to be educated. We want to go far in life.

ELLIOTT: Her classmate, Raven Sewell, wants a candidate who can help break the cycle of poverty.

RAVEN SEWELL: I'm 22, and I can honestly say I'm almost there. I have my own place to live. All I'm doing is working on a car. Like, some people really trying. They just need extra push.

ELLIOTT: Unlike other places where Bernie Sanders has fired up young voters, he's not reached these rural African-American students. Sewell is surprised to hear that he wants to make college free.

SEWELL: Now that sounds wonderful. Yes, indeed it does.

ELLIOTT: Sanders has to ramp up the message if he's going to cut through Clinton's support in the South come Super Tuesday. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Greensboro, Ala.

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