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6 things to know about Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff

Warnock and Ossoff in a November rally in GeorgiaJessica McGowan/Photographer: Jessica McGowan/Ge

The Reverend Raphael Warnock has won the US Senate race in Georgia, becoming the state’s first black senator and only the 11th black senator in history. His fellow Democrat, Jon Ossoff, is on the verge of winning the other Georgia seat. If Ossoff is victorious, Democrats will have gained control of both houses of Congress as well as the presidency.

Here, compiled from Globe wire services and other media reports, are six things to know about the two men.

Warnock rose from humble beginnings

Warnock, 51, grew up in a housing project in Savannah, Georgia. He was the 11th of 12 children. Both his parents were pastors. His father salvaged abandoned cars before preaching on the weekends. His mother had worked as a teenager as a sharecropper picking cotton and tobacco. Warnock became the first member of his family to graduate from college. He earned a Ph.D. in theology that led to a career in the pulpit, eventually as head pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Atlanta church where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. preached.

“We didn’t have a lot, but we had the things that mattered, love and parents who cared about us,” Warnock said in a speech in Savannah in 2006.


The connection to MLK goes beyond just the Ebenezer Baptist post

People who knew Warnock when he was young said he idolized King as a child, even sometimes mimicking the sound of the civil rights leader’s voice, The Washington Post reported. “Raphael has always been beyond his time,” the Reverend Matthew Southall Brown told the Savannah Morning News at the 2006 speech. “What I remember most about him was that Martin Luther King was his ideal. When he told me he got the position as pastor at King’s church, I said ‘Raphael, that is just the place for you.’”


Warnock says the Senate needs a pastor

Warnock has said more than once that the Senate needs a pastor. “We are at an inflection point in American history,” Warnock told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There is a fundamental question about the character of our country and the soul of our nation. We are in a spiritual crisis.”

Since becoming pastor at Ebenezer in 2005 at age 35, Warnock has led voter registration drives, pushed for the expansion of Medicaid, held a climate change summit with former Vice President Al Gore and advocated for an overhaul of criminal justice policy.

“It is about my passion for justice,” Warnock told the Journal-Constitution. “I am not in love with politics, but I am in love with humanity. Politics is a tool to effect the kind of change that I want to see in the world.”

Ossoff has Massachusetts ties

Ossoff’s grandfather, Hyman Ossoff, was born and raised in Peabody and was a life-long resident of the area, the Lynn Item reported. After returning from service in World War II, Hyman Ossoff had a 45-year career in the leather business with his brothers that included establishing the Suncook Tanning Corp. in Pittsfield, N.H., according to his obituary. Jon’s father, Richard, and his siblings grew up in Marblehead. But Jon grew up in the Atlanta area.

Ossoff got an early start in politics

Ossoff is only 33, but he was politically precocious. As a high schooler, he read the memoir of John Lewis, the Atlanta congressman and civil rights icon, and wrote him to ask for a job. Lewis brought him on for an internship, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Ossoff was 16 at the time. A few years later, Lewis’s office steered Ossoff to the campaign of an underdog Georgia congressional candidate. Ossoff ended up working on the congressman’s staff while at the same time still attending Georgetown University. He stayed on Capitol Hill for six years.


Ossoff also got an early start in documentary filmmaking

The son of a publishing executive and a management consultant, a teenage Ossoff was attending a dinner party with his mother in southwestern France in 2003 when his brains impressed a documentary filmmaker, the New York Times reported. He did an internship at the company in July 2008. Five years later, at the age of 26, Ossoff - who had scant journalism experience - was hired as chief executive of the organization, now known as Insight TWI. Ossoff used an inheritance from his grandfather to buy an ownership stake in the London-based company, the Journal-Constitution reported.

“I openly acknowledge that the opportunity I’ve had is a function of my parents’ hard work ... the opportunity to get a great education without debt, the opportunity to do what I love and pursue my passion, which is confronting and exposing injustice and the abuse of power,” he told The Washington Post.

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.