As the chains of slavery bore a weight passed down from generation to generation, Black women in America faced unimaginable horrors and challenges. Thus began a seed planted within the hearts of our ancestors who were burdened and bound immeasurably by the patriarchy structure that held no place for them, and the systemic racism that left them without the luxury of protection.
In our communities Black women have led us to the polls in more ways than one. Just think back to your first voting experience, chances are Black women were on the front lines, handing out literature, tending the polls, answering questions and assisting voters with inquiries.
Practicing civic engagement spurs from an unacknowledged history of fighting for the preservation of our rights.
As the smoke of the American Civil War cleared, a bigger push was made in the abolitionist movement to afford slaves the right to vote. But fear and persistence kept the powers to be in tune with the preservation of white womanhood and white supremacy. For if slaves and their descendants were allowed a chance at true Democracy, the wall that misplaced us would come crumbling down.
In the suffrage movement, there lived a rich lineage of Black women outside of the mainstream names touted like Susan B. Anthony and Elizbeth Cady Stanton. The list also expands beyond the names of the Black women suffragists that are often referenced like Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.
The women’s suffrage movement formally organized the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, but over the next few years splintered into two groups, the National Women Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA). The two groups were able to come together and mobilize in 1890 becoming the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), by adapting a-state by-state approach for ratification.
With the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, women were guaranteed the right to vote. But, white women were the only group included under the category of who was deemed a woman in America. As the reign of terror continued with Jim Crow laws and the enforcement of segregation, Black women and men were excluded from voting until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, signed into legislation by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
But the tides continue to turn towards a new wave of voter suppression in present day with redlining, purging of voter rolls, long wait times and most recently, a pandemic which presented challenges with absentee voting.
This week we will honor the forgotten names of the women who marched proudly into the fold of freedom and justice for all.