Exactly a hundred years ago, women gained the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were instrumental in the fight for women suffrage (1). The ratification of the 19th Amendment was not a cause for celebration for the black women, however, as their right to vote was not actualized until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (2).
Arguably, the roots of the suffrage movement can be traced to the abolition movement, whose champions called for both gender equality and an end to slavery (2). Although Susan B. Anthony and other white women suffragists were believers in the abolitionist cause, their first priority was ensuring that women were allowed to vote. As such, Anthony refused to support any suffrage amendment for black men after the civil war unless the same franchise was granted to white women.
Meanwhile, in the South, an abolitionist and suffragist was using her occupation to shed light on the horrors of the Jim Crow Era. Writing for Memphis’ black newspaper, The Free Speech, Ida B. Wells condemned lynching,disfranchisement, segregation, and the lack of educational and economic opportunity for African Americans. In 1892, Wells’ activism and journalism won her many enemies in the South. Consequently, the offices of The Free Speech were wrecked by an angry mob that threatened to kill Wells should she ever return. After moving to the north, Wells continued writing about racist violence and organizing on behalf of women suffrage (1).
At the beginning of the 20th century, many middle-class white people who endorsed women suffrage sought to neutralize the black vote by adopting women suffrage. As such, in March 1913, Wells hoped to join the suffrage parade through President Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural celebration but was asked to stay out by organizers who believed that whites did not wish to march alongside blacks (1).
The year is now 2020, and a global pandemic continues to claim lives as scientists labor to develop a vaccine. However, in the midst of these trying times, a spark ignited the flame that is the Black Lives Matter movement. Once again, America is reminded of its history of slavery, Jim Crow Laws, and systems of discrimination. Throughout the years, there have been numerous activists and politicians who have pushed for social justice issues, but, ultimately, their work is a continuation of Ida B. Wells’ strife.
(1) History.com Editors. “Women Who Fought for the Vote.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/womens-history/women-who-fought-for-the-vote-1.
(2) Adler, Sarah Elizabeth. “Black Women and The Fight For the Right to Vote.” AARP, 28 Feb. 2020, www.aarp.org/politics-society/history/info-2020/black-women-voting-rights.html.
About the Author: Alyaa Elkhafif is a mechanical
engineering major at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Her interest in STEM is coupled with a passion for
politics and social issues. As such, she hopes that her
internship with EWAAB will provide her with the
resources to help other women succeed in both higher
education and the professional world. In the future,
Alyaa aspires to work in the sustainable energy sector. As of right now, she is pursuing
a minor in social science and serving as the president of College Democrats at Stevens.