Blood, sweat and tears shed to ensure right to vote after it became legal for all, San Antonio historian says

This year marks 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment, which technically granted women right to vote

SAN ANTONIO – The November election is approaching, and we can expect to see people of all races and genders at the polls casting their ballots or sending them in by mail.

But voting isn’t a right that everyone always had. Initially, women and African-Americans were denied the opportunity. For some, voter suppression persisted even after it technically became legal for all.

Before women got the right to vote, the 15th Amendment, which passed in 1869 and was ratified the following year, gave Black men the right to vote.

St. Mary’s University history professor Teresa Van Hoy says the move didn’t sit well with some white women.

“One of the first things they said is that Black men should not receive the vote before white women,” Van Hoy said.

It was during the time of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which at first was mutually supportive of emancipation and abolition. However, Van Hoy says the 15th Amendment brought about a sense of betrayal amongst white women.

“They made many racist remarks about Black men,” Van Hoy said.

The sentiments tarnished relationships with Black suffragist allies, like Frederick Douglass and Francis Ellen Watkins Harper. Still, the suffrage movement pushing for the rights of women persisted, and in 1920, the U.S. ratified the women's suffrage amendment -- one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history.

“The 19th Amendment ensured the vote for women in the United States, Black women and white women,” Van Hoy said.

But the lingering racism and Jim Crow laws led to voter suppression targeting Black men and women. Methods included white-only primaries, poll taxes, bean-counting tests, and literacy exams.

“Asking them to read and interpret, for example, the U.S. Constitution,” Van Hoy said.

Protests and voter registration drives were held in opposition to the double standards, but many efforts to even the playing field were met with a harsh push-back.

“In the ’50s, in the ’60s, people went to register to vote to bring people to the polls, and they were lynched and they were killed,” Van Hoy said.

Then finally, the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.

“Finally, the right to vote was reasserted so vigorously that it became impossible to erect these barriers,” Van Hoy said.

Aug. 18 will mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Today, adults, regardless of race or gender, can celebrate by registering to vote. Click here for more information.

About the Authors: