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What to Black Women Is the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage?
On the 76th Anniversary of the birth of the United States, while addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society, on July 5, 1852, in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass asked: “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”. Douglass sought to challenge his audience’s perception that, in celebrating America’s Independence, they were living up to their proclaimed beliefs of liberty and freedom. With his comments, he also fought erasure of Blacks from the nation they had built. The speech was delivered in the decade preceding the American Civil War, which achieved the abolition of slavery that Douglass had so fervently sought. After the Civil War, Douglass said that “we” had achieved a great thing by gaining American independence during the American Revolutionary War, but he said it was not as great as what was achieved by the Civil War in the abolition of slavery.
Fast-forward to today, where the year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting (white) women’s Constitutional right to vote. The 19th Amendment was adopted Aug. 18, 1920, after the required number of states ratified the constitutional measure. However, much like Douglass pointed out that the quest for liberty of slaves was deferred until the conclusion of the Civil War, the quest for suffrage for women of color continued through the Civil Rights Era and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally delivered the franchise to Black people in the South.
This centennial year of women’s suffrage, as we celebrate with ticker tape parades and marches—much in the same manner as we celebrate Independence Day—we must combat the erasure of Black women by acknowledging that the symbolic white color which enshrouded the quest for electoral empowerment of white women was ironically fitting of the overall uncomplicated and narrow way that the women’s suffrage movement is portrayed in the history books. Black women were both literally and figuratively whitewashed from the women’s suffrage movement.
“Black women were both literally and figuratively whitewashed from the women’s suffrage movement”
To unerase Black women from the women’s suffrage movement, we must ask ourselves, “What to a Black Woman is the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage?” Then, we must say the names of the women who fought not only for their own suffrage, but by dint of being Black women, inherently fought for universal suffrage. Not only were there Black women who fought alongside white suffragists—like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Ann Shadd, Harriet Jacobs, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffub, Mary McLeod Bethune, but there were Black women who continued to fight for electoral empowerment throughout Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Era, ultimately securing the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Gertrude Bustill-Mossell, Charlotta Bass, Marvell Jackson Cooke).
The prevailing narratives surrounding the American Revolution and the Women’s Suffrage Movement would have us believe that America is built on the ideals of liberty and freedom; but more than anything, it is built on inconsistencies that have been overlooked for so long they appear to be truths. As we celebrate America’s march to full Democracy, let’s unravel the one-dimensional notion that women’s suffrage was fought and won in a single push, and recognize that the gains achieved for women’s suffrage came at the expense of women of color, for whom suffrage would have to wait another 45 years.
About Robin Wilt
Robin Wilt has been a licensed real estate professional for 17 years, and is currently the
Principal/Owner of a proprietary real estate brokerage firm located in Brighton. In January 2018, Ms. Wilt began serving as the second African American ever elected to Brighton Town Council. She is a founding Board Member of the Dartmouth Women’s Rugby Club, serves on the Board and Racial Justice Initiative of Citizen Action New York, and is currently active in the Rochester Chapter of National Organization for Women, aswell as a member of the Brighton PTSA, Brighton Chamber of Commerce, and Brighton Believes Council. Ms. Wilt is an alumna of Dartmouth College, where she studied Government, and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Academic Honor Society.\
About 29 Days of Little Known Facts About (Black) American History
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3 thoughts on “What to Black Women Is the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage? by Robin Wilt | 29 Days of Little Known Facts About (Black) American History (I)”
Every time I hear mention of the 100th Anniversary of women’s right to vote, I ask myself this same question. To Black women, what does this mean? I find it hard to celebrate the anniversary of white women’s suffrage without remembering that Susan B Anthony did not fight for the rights of Black women (or men) to vote. I view this anniversary with shame. It is appalling that we have erased the history of Black women’s and Black men’s fight for voting rights, knowing full well the attempts made to suppress Black voting all the way to the present.
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