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Black Suffragists You Should Know



On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. On the 100th anniversary of historic ratification, Americans are only just beginning to realize that the law has primarily helped white women, while black women and other women of color have faced discrimination and intimidation in trying to exercise their right to vote.

Despite struggling with well-known suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, many savvy black suffragists have not received the same recognition. Black women were forced to march separately from their white counterparts during rallies, and even after the 1

9th Amendment was ratified, Jim Crow’s laws in the south prevented black women and men from voting. It was only when these restrictions were lifted with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that blacks in the south were able to exercise their right to vote. Here are 10 black women who helped shape the suffragist movement.

1. Sojourner Truth

A charismatic public speaker, Sojourner Truth was a preacher, abolitionist, and the first known black suffragist. Born Isabella Baumfree in Ulster County, New York, in 1797, she was enslaved until she fled to an abolitionist family in 1827 who paid for her freedom. She then moved to New York City where she worked for a local minister. She eventually changed her name to Sojourner Truth when she felt the Holy Spirit calling her to preach. She became a leading anti-slavery and women’s rights activist, attended conventions in the eastern United States, and electrified audiences with her calls to action. At a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, she gave her famous speech: “Am I not a woman?” Although the true text of this speech is debated by historians, an excerpt from an 1863 version is difficult to argue:

“That man over there says women need to be helped in carriages and lifted over ditches and have the best seat everywhere. Nobody ever helps me in carriages or over puddles of mud or gives me a best seat! And ain I am a woman? Look Look at me! Look at my arm! I’ve plowed and planted and gathered in barns and no man could guide me! And am I not a woman? … If the first woman God ever made was These women who are strong enough to turn the world upside down on their own should be able to turn it back and turn it upside down! And now they ask, the men better let it. “

2. Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s lightbulb moment came when she was forcibly removed from the train after buying a premium rail ticket when she refused to sit in the car for black passengers. (They sued the railroad and won.) Born in Mississippi in 1862, Wells-Barnett fought segregation as an investigative journalist, newspaper publisher, educator, and activist. In 1892, when three of her friends were lynched, Wells-Barnett wrote a seminal synopsis of the murder of innocent black citizens by white supremacists and continued to urge officials to hold the system’s perpetrators accountable. Their stories resulted in violent setbacks that forced them to move from Memphis to Chicago. In the Windy City, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, a civil service organization, and founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, one of Chicago’s premier suffragist organizations that advocated the inclusion of black voters and the black field Candidates in elections. In the same year she marched in the separate women’s election procession in Washington, DC – and again refused to pull back.

3. Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell, a classics scholar at Oberlin College, was one of the first black women to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. After moving to Washington, DC, Terrell taught Latin at M Street School, the country’s first public high school for black students, and immersed herself in the women’s rights movement. She co-founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs with Ida B. Wells-Barnett and other leading activists, where she served as the organization’s first president and coined the group’s motto, “Lifting While Climbing.” In 1910 she founded the National Association of University Women, which promotes the community among working women. Terrell toured the country, lecturing on women’s suffrage, making notes in her speeches and writing the hypocrisy of white suffragists who fought for women’s rights while disregarding blacks.

4. Mary B. Talbert

Mary B. Talbert was born, raised, and educated in Oberlin, Ohio. She was an educator, activist, and co-founder of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, the Buffalo, New York Chapter of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. In 1905 she helped found the Niagara Movement, a civil rights organization that was the forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which she served as vice president. Her longstanding campaign for women’s suffrage resulted in her serving as president of the National Association of Women of Color between 1916 and 1920, converting it into a statewide organization (one of the accomplishments of her tenure was the rescue and restoration of the Frederick Douglass Home in Washington, DC) . In addition to writing articles on the suffrage movement for The crisisTalbert, the NAACP magazine, was a gifted public speaker who became an international voice for black women while touring overseas lecturing on women’s rights.

5. Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs was a dedicated educator, religious leader, and feminist who believed that black women and girls should have greater opportunities for education and careers – and she made it a life’s work to empower black women. Burroughs attended M Street School in Washington, DC, where she met her mentor, Mary Church Terrell. Burroughs co-founded the National Association of Colored Women and the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention, an organization of more than 1 million women that she led in support of women’s suffrage. In 1909 she persuaded the National Baptist Convention to establish the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, financed entirely by black donors, to educate and train black women. She was president of the school until her death in 1961, after which the school was renamed in her honor.

6. Frances EW Harper

Frances EW Harper, born in Baltimore in 1825, is best known for her poetry and writings criticizing slavery, racism, and gender inequality. After being introduced to a range of literature in a Quaker household as a teenager, she became an abolitionist and worker on the Underground Railroad. She supported her family with her lectures and published poetry and prose collections, including Forest leaves (1845) and the novel Iola Leroy or Shadow raised (1892). She was a founding member of the American Woman Suffrage Association and has attended conferences and meetings on women’s rights, including the 1866 Women’s Convention, where she shared the platform with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. There she addressed the racial discrimination she experienced as a black woman in predominantly white suffragist organizations and said: “You white women here speak of rights. I speak of injustice. “

7. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, a journalist and activist focused on advancing black women for civil rights in New England, joined the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association in 1875 and co-founded the Women’s Era Club, one of the earliest nonprofit clubs for black women, in 1893 who advocate black voting rights and other civil rights issues. The Women’s Era Club then joined the Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1895. When the State Federation soon joined the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, a controversy arose: Ruffin demanded recognition at the National Federation’s annual meeting as a delegate of a black women’s club. The president of the national group had not noticed that she had accepted a black club into the all-white national association. (Ruffin was not recognized, but her point of view was clarified.) Ruffin also founded the club’s newspaper The era of women, the first national newspaper for black women, edited and published from 1894 to 1897. Black women from across the country contributed their writings, which reinforced their voices and successes in the civil rights movement.

8. Harriet Forten Purvis

Harriet Forten Purvis, born in Philadelphia in 1810, was the daughter of James Forten, the city’s most successful black businessman and abolitionist. She helped found the Biracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society [PDF] with her mother and sisters, as well as suffragist Lucretia Mott and other leading abolitionists in 1833, who raised money to campaign for lawmakers and provide shelter, shelter and transportation to formerly enslaved people. She and her husband Robert Purvis worked as prominent station masters on the Underground Railroad. Purvis also made speeches against discrimination in public spaces and initiated boycotts of products created through slave labor. A strong supporter of the suffrage movement, Purvis was a member of the executive committee of the American Equal Rights Association along with Mott, Stanton, Anthony and Frederick Douglass. After the group split in support of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869, Purvis became a key member of the National Woman Suffrage Association of Stanton and Anthony. Together with her sisters, Purvis played a key role in organizing the fifth annual National Convention on Women’s Rights in 1853.

9. Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary Ann Shadd Cary, born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1823, wore many hats. A well-known journalist, lawyer, teacher, abolitionist and suffragist, she immigrated to Canada after Congress passed the Fugitive Act in 1850. (Though not enslaved, the Shadd family had helped enslaved people on the Underground Railroad.) Shadd Cary founded the Freeman Province, an anti-slavery publication that made her the first black woman in North America to publish a newspaper. In 1869 she moved to Washington, DC and attended Howard University Law School while supporting herself as a teacher. A passionate supporter of women’s suffrage, she spoke at the National Woman Suffrage Association’s congress in 1878 and was one of 600 people who signed a petition for women’s suffrage that was presented to the House Judiciary Committee. She also organized the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association in 1880.

10. Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin

Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin, born in 1883, organized consumer protests in Pittsburgh before she was elected president of the Lucy Stone Woman Suffrage League in 1915, a group that campaigned for black women’s suffrage. As a club leader, Lampkin was a Nationals organizer and chair of the Executive Board of the National Association for Colored Women, where she worked with Mary Church Terrell and other black suffragists. She was also a member of the National Suffrage League. After ratifying the 19th Amendment, Lampkin continued to organize black voters in the Negro Voters League of Pennsylvania. She is credited with harnessing the power of black voters and activists under the umbrella of the NAACP in the 1930s and 1940s, who formed an organizational foundation for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.




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