Morgan County’s own Helen Butler was presented with the Love Award from the Voter Empowerment Collaborative earlier this month for her decades-long activism dedicated to protecting and enhancing voting rights.
Butler, 72, born in Buckhead and educated in Madison, currently sits on the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration and serves as executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a non-profit organization based in Atlanta centered around voting rights and voter education.
Awarded on the 56th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when about 600 Civil Rights protesters were beaten by police during a peace march in Selma, Ala., Butler said she is honored to carry on the work of those who went before her.
“It was a great honor to receive this award and we are going to keep up the fight, especially in the times we are living in,” said Butler. “My main vision is to really improve governance by having citizens who participate and are active and engaged and empowered to really change their community through public policy.”
The Voter Empowerment Collaborative, founded by the late Rev. Albert E. Love, is dedicated to registering, educating and mobilizing voters. On March 7, the anniversary of Blood Sunday, Bishop Greg Fann presented Butler with the annual Love Award for her relentless fight for voting rights.
When Bloody Sunday unfolded on the black-and-white television screens across America in 1965, Butler was still attending Pearl Street High School, the historic African-American school in Madison during the segregation era. She graduated from there with honors as the class salutatorian. When Martin Luther King. Jr. was assassinated, Butler was attending the University of Georgia in Athens. “It was disheartening,” recalled Butler. “But the movement kept on going.”
Butler participated in marches and Civil Rights Activism throughout her youth. During her time at UGA, she established a sorority, Zeta Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at UGA, that still exists today.
“We couldn’t join any of the white sororities back then, so we started our own,” said Butler.
She graduated from UGA with a Bachelor’s Degree of Business Administration with a major in accounting. After college, she worked in the private sector for General Motors as an accountant and climbed the ladder of success to become Vice President of Human Resources for retail and wholesale grocery businesses for over 20 years.
“I finally came back to the nonprofit world in 2000,” said Butler.
That year, Butler joined the NAACP Voter Fund as the 5th Congressional District coordinator and eventually served as the Georgia State Coordinator for the NAACP Voter Empowerment Program through 2002. Butler even worked alongside the former Georgia Secretary of State on a “pilot project” to improve recording methods of electronic voting.
In 2003, Butler signed on to the Coalition for the People’s Agenda, founded by Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, as the state director. Today, she is the organization’s executive director.
According to the Atlanta Business Journal, Butler didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk, literally.
“During the 2004 election cycle, she directed a strategic non-partisan grassroots initiative in the 12th Congressional District with ‘Voices for Working Families,’ using college and community young adults...During the five-month period of the Voices project, a door-to-door campaign in the 12th Congressional District achieved statistics of 81,339 knocks, 24,443 contacts, 9,466 registrations, and a conversion rate of 39 percent. The 2008 election cycle included the registration of 100,000 new registered voters with coalition partners and the training of over 1,000 new civic engagement partners through the Georgia Vote Connection Center, a collaboration with the Georgia Citizens’ Coalition on Hunger.”
Writer Bunny Jackson Ransom said of Butler’s work, “If this is not proof of what a ‘walking/talking voting machine’ is, I don’t know what could be more proof.”
Butler went on to work on dozens of voting rights projects and serve on myriad boards over the last two decades. As part of the “Advancement Project,” Butler was certified as “Local Voter Protection Advocate” in 2006. The Advancement Project is “a racial and social justice organization that works with communities seeking to build a fair and just multi-racial democracy.” The program aims to abolish cumbersome barriers that deter low-income and minority citizens from voting.
Butler also works to educate voters on how to access pivotal public information through modern technology. She partnered with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund.
Butler has spearheaded the Coalition for the People’s Agenda’s “Count Me Black” program, which works to increase participation among minority communities in the U.S. Census to ensure adequate funding and fair representation for communities of color.
In addition to serving on the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration, Butler also serves on the Board of Directors for Women’s Actions for New Directions (WAND), and The State of Georgia Help America Vote Act Advisory Committee (HAVA). In the past, she was a member of the Board of Directors for Colonial Stores’ Employees’ Credit Union, Board of Directors for YES! Atlanta (Youth Program), Founding member of the Zeta Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at the University of Georgia, Advisory Board of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Center Manager for Junior Achievement, Life Member of the NAACP, Vice President of Metro Atlanta Personnel Society, Society for Human Resources Management, and Industrial Relations Research Association.
Butler plans to continue her for work for as long as she can.
“I am still going. For me, it’s about protecting the vote and educating people on how they can vote and making sure they have the help they need to get them registered and out to the polls so everyone can participate in our democracy,” said Butler.