This August marks the 100th anniversary of women securing the right to vote in the United States after Congress ratified the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920, following decades of activism.
But even after the passing of the 19th Amendment, promising that the right to vote would “not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” women of color were still barred from the polls in many states. Some Black female suffragists then joined the suffrage movement, and in the century that followed, they fought for the rights of their fellow women to vote in the midst of discrimination and racism.
These Black female activists, who were then concerned with white mob violence including lynching, were confident that voting will become a crucial tool of empowerment.
As suffragists, they may not have received the same attention as Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but they were deeply involved in the quest for women’s suffrage, especially Black women.
Mary Eliza Church Terrell
An African-American educator, writer and civil rights activist, Terrell fought for racial equality and women’s suffrage from the late 19th century. Terrell, the daughter of former slaves who later became successful business owners, founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), also known as the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) in 1896. Terrell and others with the NACW fought for not only the causes of universal suffrage but the freedom and equality of men and women of all colors in the eyes of the law.
Ida B. Wells
Wells’ legacy as a devoted journalist and civil rights activist remains potent as ever, standing as America’s most vocal leader against the heinous practice of lynching. Wells realized that lynching was used as an excuse to do away with black people who were acquiring property and wealth and to sow fear into them. As a supporter of women’s voting rights, Wells co-founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, Chicago’s first African American suffrage organization in 1913. The club educated Black women about their civic duties while advocating for the election of Black political officials.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary
She was the first woman to become a publisher in Canada. Born in 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware, she escaped slavery to Canada and began teaching children of former slaves who joined her there. The newspaper she later started called The Provincial Freemen became a weekly publication for African Americans, especially escaped slaves. She also established a school that was open to children if all races, but later returned to the U.S. when the Civil War broke out to assist in the war effort. In the 1870s, she became part of the suffrage movement that began fighting for women’s rights, including their right to vote. One of the first black female lawyers in the country, Cary was among a group of suffragists who testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the importance of the right to vote.
Nannie Helen Burroughs
Burroughs was not only a suffrage supporter but a well-known African American educator and church leader who was all for women empowerment. She helped establish the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and founded the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., in 1909. The many articles she wrote for leading African American newspapers and magazines and the hundreds of speeches she gave throughout the country were all centered on injustices as well as “women’s self-reliance and economic freedom.”