Women’s Suffrage: How Black Women’s Fight To Vote Changed America

Women's suffrage - Black women protesting for equality
Young black women protesting at a Black Panther rally in the 1960's.
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by: Christy Oldham

August 14, 2020

The crusade to win the right to vote by American women was a long fought battle that finally manifested 100 years ago this month! Women’s suffrage or the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August of 1920, launched the birth of woman’s political empowerment. However, the 19th amendments’ acquiescence towards Black women remained. Black women still face the dual challenge of overcoming both gender and racial inequality. The resistance and hostility by society and government regarding the Black woman’s disenfranchisement would start to see change some 40 years after the ratification during the second feminism wave of the 1960’s.

Progress

New dimensions of freedom have slowly unfolded for all women. And its taken brave women a full century to collectively achieve all of our rights that we have today. The American woman has made significant progress specifically in the areas of equality, sexual discrimination and harassment and reproductive right issues. For example, suffragists Jane Adams and Emily Balch were responsible for creating the birth control movement aimed at extending women’s rights from the public sector into the private sector. Black women worked even harder due to the double obstacle of race/gender and had to create their own movement. In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women’s political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. And the brawl for equality continues as fourthwave feminism goes deeper by utilizing a sharper sword called “social media” to carve out lasting change. In order to see just how far women have come in the last century, lets take a look back at how messed up it was…

A Change Was Needed

In 1848, American women were deprived of legal rights in virtually all dimensions of their lives. The British common law principle of coverture, which America had absorbed, declared that “husband and wife are one and that one is the husband.” When a man proposed marriage to a woman he stood to gain many benefits including the control of the woman’s wages (if she was allowed to work) and her family’s finances. It was unlawful for her to own property in her name because hence, she is property. She was his concubine. Men were the only owners of property and therefore could also demand unlimited sexual gratification from that property. This led to a high birthrate which kept the woman shackled through default motherhood. Meanwhile, African-American women in the southern states were slaves who suffered endemic rape by their masters and were powerless to stop their children from being sold away. The unforgettable saga of one enslaved woman’s fight for justice in the book Sweet Taste of Liberty is a must read regarding stories of slavery and restitution in America. 

The Struggle Is Real

Women’s suffrage (the 19th amendment) promised the vote to American women but it took decades for Black women to emerge as an electoral force. As historian Faye E. Dudden writes in her book Fighting Chance, the suffrage movement during the reconstruction period was strained due to women’s issues being intertwined with race issues. Black women started voting in greater numbers after World War 2. This was because states were forced to include Black voters into the primaries.

CBD Living

By the 1960’s, the 24th Amendment had abolished the use of poll taxes followed by The Voting Rights Act which outlawed literacy tests as a voting prerequisite. By 1968, New York Democrat Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman to be elected into Congress.

Women's suffrage -  Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to be elected into Congress
                                                                     Shirley Chisholm

Today, 22 women have seats in the House. Former California Senator Kamala Harris just recently made an historic leap when she was nominated by Democratic nominee Joe Biden as his 2020 Vice President running mate.   

Kamala Harris GIF
Kamala Harris

Women office holders of all races have made significant progress in the last 50 years. By 1994, the House had 47 women in seats and in 2018 a record 108 women won House seats. Also, there are currently 3 women who serve on the Supreme Court. The only American political seat that has not elected a woman yet is of course up for grabs this Fall.

Want to get into Politics?

A group called Higher Heights for America is working to improve Black women’s political representation by holding webinars to teach participants about women’s suffrage and how to build a political career. To learn more click HERE

Take Part in the Historic Celebration!

  • PIN YOUR PRIDE: The 19th Amendment Pin Set features the popular ” Votes for Women” slogan and the blue bird, a symbol issued by the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association in 1915. 
  • SUPPORT WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS: Woman-owned Seattle Chocolates is honoring suffragists with original artwork packaged for their delicious chocolate truffle bar’s. Yummy!
  • GO SEE IN PERSON the all-female team of artists installing a series of grand murals called Walls For Women across the country! Wow! Event Info
  • READ some cool short stories when thousands of woke women took it to the streets in 1915, marching in protest! 
  • SUPPORT ALL WOMEN!
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christy oldham
About christy oldham 121 Articles
Christy was educated in Paris at École des hautes études commerciales de Paris (HEC Paris), an international business school in France and studied film and television at LACC (Los Angeles Community College). She is a business owner, published author and a critically acclaimed independent filmmaker. Her 20 year body of cinema work to date includes 2 feature films, 15 short films and one web series. She is a writer, producer, director, cinematographer, actress and editor. Her headlining film credit includes the vigilante feature film "Barracuda" (Released in 2014 by Maverick Entertainment Group) which earned her critical filmmaker acclaim including 3 Best Picture awards at multiple U.S. film festivals. In 2017, she directed 3 episodes of the post-apocalyptic web series "Vape Warz", which she also wrote and produced. It premiered at the 2017 Mediterranean Film festival Cannes in the south of France and received an Honorable Mention for Best Web Series and is now streaming on Amazon. In 2019, she released her first foreign short film "Perdu à France" ("Lost In Provence")- also streaming on Amazon. She lives in Los Angeles.

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