African-American women's suffrage movement

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As the women's suffrage movement gained popularity, African-American women were increasingly marginalized.[1] African-American women dealt not only with the sexism of being withheld the vote but also the racism of white suffragists. The struggle for the vote did not end with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.[1] In some Southern states, African American women were unable to freely exercise their right to vote up until the 1960s.[2] However, these difficulties did not deter African-American women in their effort to secure the vote.

Marginalizing African-American women[edit]

In 1890, two rival organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).[3] As NAWSA began gaining support for its cause, its members realized that the exclusion of African-American women would gain greater support, resulting in the adoption of a more narrow view of women's suffrage than had been previously asserted. NAWSA focused on enfranchisement solely for white women.[3] African-American women began experiencing the "Anti-Black" women's suffrage movement.[4] The National Woman Suffrage Association considered the Northeastern Federation of Colored Women's Clubs to be a liability to the association due to Southern white women's attitudes toward black women getting the vote.[5] Southern whites feared African-Americans gaining more political advantage and thus power; African-American women voters would help to achieve this change.

The women's suffrage movement began with women such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and it progressed to women like Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, and many others. All of these women played very important roles, such as contributing to the growing progress and effort to end African-American women's disenfranchisement. These women were discriminated against, abused, and raped by white southerners and northerners, yet they remained strong and persistent, and that strength has been passed down from generation to generation. It is still carried on in African-American families today. "African American women, have been political activists for their entire history on the American continent but long denied the right to vote and hold office, have resorted to nontraditional politics.[6]

After her arrest in 1970, "Davis became a political prisoner. National and international protests to free Angela were mobilized around the world. During the two years that she spent in prison, Davis read, wrote essays on injustices, and prepared as co-counsel for her own defense. Eventually, Davis was released on bail in 1972 and later acquitted of all criminal charges at her jury trial."[7]

The Creation of The National Association of Colored Women[edit]

The American Women's Suffrage movement began in the north as a middle class white woman's movement with most of their members were educated white women primarily from Boston, New York, Maine, and the Northeast. Attempts were made by the National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA) to include working class women, as well as black suffragists. In 1848 the American Equal Rights Association was formed with the belief that everyone regardless of race or sex should be given the right to vote. During this time period a division was forming among the women's movement. The 14th Amendment was being proposed and black males were on the cusp of receiving the right to vote. The NSWA held a convention to discuss how to go forward and the women were divided on the issue. Some women didn't want to risk losing the chance for black males to get the right to vote, and figured that the women would get their turn. They saw this proposed amendment as a victory of sorts. Other women like Anthony and Stanton were angered by this decision and felt that this decision wasn't good enough, and that women black or white, should not be excluded from the vote.

The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment were eventually passed by Congress and women were still not granted the right to vote. As time went on the leaders of the National Women's Suffrage Association began to see African American Suffrage and White Suffrage as different issues. The reasons for this change in ideals varies but in the 1890s younger women began to take the leadership roles and people like Stanton and Anthony were no longer in charge. Another reason for the change in ideals among the movement was the growing "white supremacy" thinking of women entering the movement from the south. Now with dissention and disagreement among the NWSA, African American women left and banded together to form their own organizations.[8][9]

In June 1892 the Colored Women's League was founded in Washington D.C. Under their president Helen Cook the CWL fought for black suffrage and held night classes. A Boston area group under the leadership of Mrs. Booker T. Washington called the National Federation of African American Women joined the Colored Women's League out of Washington D.C. In 1896, both groups joined together to form the National Association of Colored Women under the leadership of Mrs. Mary Church Terrell. Mary Church Terrell was a college educated woman and was named the first president. This group did many things to contribute to the betterment of black women, as well as many other smaller groups who are not named.[8][10]

The "educated suffragist"[edit]

The NAWSA's movement marginalize many African-American women and through this effort was developed the idea of the "educated suffragist."[1] This was the notion that being educated was an important prerequisite for being allowed the right to vote. Since many African-American women were uneducated, this notion meant exclusion from the right to vote. This movement was prevalent in the South but eventually gained momentum in the North as well.[1] African-American women were not deterred by the rising opposition and became even more aggressive in their campaign to find equality with men and other women.

As a result, many women mobilized during this time period and worked to get African-American women involved and included in the suffrage movement, by focusing on the education of the African-American community and women on local government issues. In 1913, the Alpha Suffrage Club was founded, with Ida B. Wells as one of the co-founders and leaders, this is believed to be the first African-American women's suffrage association in the United States.[11] The group worked in publishing the Alpha Suffrage Record newspaper to canvas neighborhoods and voice political opnions.[11] One of the many black women focused on advancing literary "artistic and intellectual development" amongst African-Americans in the north was Bettiola Heloise Fortson.[12] Fortson had been an active member of various women's clubs in the Chicago area and she founded her own women's literary studies club, the University Society of Chicago.[12]

All the African-American women who participated in this important struggle against their exclusion from the women's suffrage movement waited seventy years or more to see the fruits of their labour.[citation needed]

Issues in exercising the vote[edit]

Despite the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, African-American women, particularly those inhabiting Southern states, still faced a number of issues.[1][13] At first, African-American women in the North were easily able to register to vote, and quite a few became actively involved in politics.[2] One such woman was Annie Simms Banks who was chosen to serve as a delegate to Kentucky’s Republican Party in March 1920.[1] White southerners took notice of African-American female activists organizing themselves for suffrage, and after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, African-American women's voter registration in Florida was higher than white women's.[5] Because of white people's fears about them wielding political power, African-American women found themselves targeted by a number of disenfranchisement methods. These included having to wait in line for up to twelve hours to register to vote, pay head taxes, and undergo new tests.[1] One of the new tests required that African-American women read and interpret the Constitution before being deemed eligible to vote.[2] In the South, African-American women faced even more severe obstacles to voting. These obstacles included bodily harm and fabricated charges designed to land them in jail if they attempted to vote.[2] This treatment of African-American women in the South continued up until the 1960s.[2]

See also[edit]

Biographical links[edit]

Historical links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn (1998). African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Prescod, Martha Norman (1997). Shining in the Dark: Black Women and the Struggle for the Vote, 1955–1965. 
  3. ^ a b Buechler, Steven M (1990). Women’s Movement in United States: Woman Suffrage, Equal Rights and Beyond. Rutgers University Press. )
  4. ^ Mezey, Susan Gluck (1997). "The Evolution of American Feminism". The Review of Politics. 59 (4): 948–949. doi:10.1017/s0034670500028461. JSTOR 1408321. 
  5. ^ a b Terbog-Penn, R (2004). "Discontented black feminists: prelude and postscript to the passage of the nineteenth amendment". In Bobo, J. The Black Studies Reader. New York: Routledge. pp. 65–78. 
  6. ^ Prestage, Jewel (May 1991). "Quest for African American Political Woman". American Academy of Political Science. 515 (May): 88–103. doi:10.1177/0002716291515001008. 
  7. ^ Barnett, Bernice McNair. Race, Gender & Class. 2003, Vol. 10 Issue 3, p9-22. (Davis, 1971b; 1974).
  8. ^ a b Kolmer, E. (1972). NINETEENTH CENTURY WOMAN'S RIGHTS MOVEMENT. Negro History Bulletin, 35(8), 178.
  9. ^ Taylor, U. (1998). The historical evolution of black feminist theory and praxis. Journal of Black Studies, 29(2), 234+
  10. ^ Taylor, U. (1998). The historical evolution of black feminist theory and praxis. Journal of Black Studies, 29(2), 234+.
  11. ^ a b Gale, Neil (2017-09-24). "The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™: Alpha [Woman's] Suffrage Club of Chicago, Illinois". The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™. Retrieved 2018-03-01. 
  12. ^ a b "The Passing Away of Miss Bettiola Heloise Fortson". The Broad Axe. Library of Congress. April 21, 1917. Retrieved 2018-03-01 – via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. 
  13. ^ Tindall, George Brown; Shi, David Emory (2010), America: A Narrative History, 2