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Who is Nikema Williams? Georgia State Democrat Nominated to Fill John Lewis’ Congressional Seat

Nicole Rojas
Jul 21, 2020 - 4:19

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Georgia Democrats have nominated Nikema Williams, a state senator from Atlanta, as the successor of Representative John Lewis on the ballot in the November general election. Lewis, who served as congressman for 17 terms, died on Friday following a battle with pancreatic cancer.  

State Democrats’ executive committee voted for Williams via Zoom on July 21 over four other finalists to meet an urgent legal deadline. According to CNN, the decision to nominate Williams paves the way for the first Black woman elected to lead the Georgia Democratic Party to serve the Atlanta-area district in Congress next year. 

In a speech before the vote, Williams said it was surreal the state party was forced to nominate a replacement for the civil rights icon and beloved congressman while his colleagues and friends grieved his passing. Williams, who happens to be the chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party, abstained from any votes related to the nomination, The New York Times reported. 

“Nobody will ever fill the shoes of Congressman John Lewis. I will do everything in my power to honor his legacy and lift up his spirit. I’m honored to accept this nomination,” Williams said in a statement posted on Twitter. 

Williams is readily expected to win the Atlanta-based district, which is majority Democratic. Lewis held the seat since he was first elected to Congress in 1986. In November, Williams will face off against President Donald Trump’s ally, Republican Angela Stanton-King. 

Activist Who Hopes to Live Up to Lewis’ Legacy

Like Lewis before her, Williams is an activist in her own right. As a first-term state senator, Williams was among more than a dozen protesters arrested in the state Capitol during a voting rights demonstration in 2018. 

Williams, who was charged with obstruction, said at the time that she believed she was targeted for standing alongside her constituents, who were concerned about voter suppression. 

“I stood with constituents to demand that their voices be heard and countless other Georgians who cast their ballots last Tuesday and thought that their votes were counted and are learning now that they’re not,” Williams said following her release, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time. “I will continue to stand with the citizens of Georgia—and any citizen—to demand that their votes be counted, because that is the bedrock of our democracy.” 

In this Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018 file photo, Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta) is detained by capitol police during a protest over election ballot counts in the rotunda of the state capitol building, in Atlanta. Georgia Democrats have selected state Sen. Nikema Williams, chair of the state party, to replace Rep. John Lewis on the ballot in November. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

On Monday, Williams told the committee that state Democrats needed to nominate someone “who is not afraid to put themselves on the line for their constituents in the same way Congressman Lewis taught us to do.” 

Apart from their activism, Lewis and Williams also share roots in rural Alabama.

Williams beat out several other candidates, including state Rep. Park Cannon, Atlanta council member Andre Dickens, Georgia NAACP President James “Major” Woodall and Morehouse College President Robert Franklin.

Criticism Over Williams’ Nomination

Not everyone within the Democratic Party was happy about the way state party officials went about filling Lewis’ seat. According to The New York Times, the late congressman’s seat will likely remain empty until the winner of the November election is inaugurated in January. Some critics within the party complained that party leaders opted to make the nomination instead of voters. 

Barrington D. Martin II, who challenged Lewis in the primary in June, lambasted officials for making the decision instead of allowing voters to nominate someone to run in November. Martin noted that he received more than 20,000 votes in June. 

“The decision making of a few should not override what thousands of people have already decided. Especially when 130 of those people didn’t have the gumption to primary Rep. Lewis themselves,” Martin tweeted

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

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