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No, Black people didn't get the right to vote when White women did. They had to wait 45 years.

Though Black women formed the backbone of the White women's suffragist movement, they didn't get the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

No, Black people didn't get the right to vote when White women did. They had to wait 45 years.
Image Source: Getty/ Sojourner Truth's Memorial Bust Is Unveiled In The US Capitol. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla)

Across the United States earlier this month, women—well, White women—celebrated the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The amendment, which officially came into effect on August 18 in 1920, supposedly gave all American women the right to vote. However, even though Black suffragists were fierce supporters of the movement that made the amendment possible in the first place, they had to wait nearly five decades in order to be able to vote themselves. When White suffragists were faced with the decision to allow Black men to vote alongside them, they chose to throw all Black people under the bus. We should not forget that Black folks in America were only allowed to vote when President Lyndon B Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.

 



 

Martha S Jones, a historian who has intensively studied voting rights, affirms that the 19th Amendment marked a turn for Black women, though not in the ways that people might think. "In the case of the 19th Amendment, even as it’s ratified in August of 1920, all Americans are aware that many African-American women will remain disenfranchised," she explained in an interview with TIME Magazine. The 19th Amendment did not eliminate the state laws that operated to keep Black Americans from the polls via poll taxes and literacy tests—nor did the 19th Amendment address violence or lynching... Many Black women faced the beginning of a new movement for voting rights in the summer of 1920, and it’s a struggle they will wage alone because now the organizations that had led the movement for women’s suffrage are disbanding."

 



 

If you're wondering what led up to the moment when the amendment was ratified, White suffragists launched what Jones describes as "a two-pronged campaign for a federal amendment" by 1913. As Alice Paul picketed the White House to place pressure on both the President and Congress so they would put forward a women’s suffrage amendment, other figures such as Carrie Chapman Catt worked through more traditional political channels in order to "win the ear" and finally the win over the minds of influential men like Woodrow Wilson. Ultimately, there were enough politicians in Washington, DC, willing to endorse such an amendment. However, Black women were intentionally left out of this campaigning.

 



 

Why so? Well, dozens of White southern women simply did not want to be part of a movement that granted Black women (and Black men) the same rights as them. The campaign was therefore essentially "premised in the process of selective voting rights for White American women." This is not to say that Black women voting-rights activists weren't already fighting for their right to vote. In fact, the Black suffragist movement predates its White counterpart, as Jones points out. She notes two figures in particular: Black woman Methodist preacher Jarena Lee and Maria Stewart, a widowed teacher, both two of the earliest examples of Black women’s voting rights activists. These women, and the Black suffragist movement at large, sought to support the umbrella suffragist fight but were eventually sidelined.

 



 

So, even after White women won the right to vote in 1920, Black suffragists were forced to continue to fight. Between that year and 1965, Black women formed the backbone of the movement for all Black people (and arguably all people of color) to vote. Most notably, in 1964, the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee led volunteers across Mississippi to register Black Americans to vote. Three volunteers died during this act of dissent, pushing Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Then, a year later, an angry mob led by state troopers ravaged peaceful protesters marching from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. This moment of violence galvanized President Johnson to act. "It is not just Negroes,” Johnson affirmed in Congress. “But it’s really all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice." In 2020, can we really say we have moved on from the country's crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice? Perhaps not.

 



 

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