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This year marks 100 years since the 19th Amendment ostensibly gave women the right to vote. The milestone came after decades of fighting, sacrifice and even death, and was followed by movements to secure the vote for all women. St. Mary’s University professor Teresa Van Hoy says in 2020 the importance of the vote has come full circle.
“The 19th Amendment ensured the vote for women in the United States, Black women and white women. We’re celebrating. This is a wonderful moment. But the Black Lives Matter movement has given us a big opportunity this is centennial. They have focused attention on a matter that had been covered up for 100 years. And that is the matter of racism in the women’s suffrage movement in the United States,” she said.
Despite the 19th Amendment passing in 1920, Black and other women of color would still struggle to actually cast a ballot over the next 45 years. Racist laws such as literacy and property tests, poll taxes, voter purges, violence and intimidation and white-only primaries were the foundation of voter suppression targeting people of color by governments during the Jim Crow-era. It wouldn’t be until 1965′s federal Voter’s Rights Act, that everyone, including Black women, had the right to vote.
In KSAT’s latest ‘History Untold’ segment, Van Hoy details the path to voter equality over the course of centuries, beginning in 1777, and explains how women’s right to vote evaporated following the founding of the United States one year earlier.
1777-1807: Lost rights
According to Van Hoy, in 1777 New York passed the first United States legislation denying women the right to vote. Massachusetts followed suit in 1780. Four years later, women in New Hampshire lost the right to vote. At the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, women’s suffrage was left in the hands of each state. Every state except New Jersey voted to deny women their right to vote. 20 years later, Van Hoy says, New Jersey also caved.
1848: Unlikely Alliances
That’s when she says white women began aligning with Black Americans, both men and women, for abolition, emancipation and suffrage. For example, Van Hoy says Elizabeth Stanton, a suffragist and abolitionist, didn’t initially get much attention in her push for women’s suffrage. It wasn’t until she gained the support of Frederick Douglass, a prominent activist who escaped slavery and fought to defeat it, that the proposal passed at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848.
1869: Divided by the 15th Amendment
After slavery was abolished and word spread years later to the South that enslaved Americans were now free, Black American activists became focused on equality and suffrage. At that point, white women were still aligned with Black activists for the same causes, but that changed when Black men ostensibly gained the right to vote through the 15th Amendment in 1870, which prohibited federal discrimination against voters based on race.
“That comes as a big split, sense of betrayal, I think, on the part of white women. And they immediately start to resort to very racist strategies,” Van Hoy said. White women suffragists claimed they should be able to vote before Black men, forced Black women activists to march at the back at parades and excluded them from conventions and petitions.
“Black women respond to this split, this exclusion by still working on suffrage,” Van Hoy explained.
Over the next 50 years, the growing racial divide led Black suffragists to form and grow their own organizations like the Colored Women’s League and the National Federation of Afro American Women, which would combine in 1896 to form the National Association of Colored Women.
Meanwhile, white women were attempting to pass women’s suffrage state by state, largely focusing on Southern states.
1910s: Violence over voting
The fight to reclaim the vote turned violent in the decade before the 19th Amendment was passed, after the turn of the century. Van Hoy mentions two of the most notably horrific events that made up the movement, such as a mob attack at the Washington D.C parade for the women’s vote in 1913.
“The white leaders asked the Black suffrage leaders to walk in the back of the procession. But they just kind of came in from the crowd integrated with their states contingent. People were severely beaten in that parade. And people were hurt and bleeding and sent to the hospital and no charges were made against them,” said Van Hoy. 100 marchers were hospitalized after they were reportedly attacked by drunk men who were never stopped by police.
In November 1917, 33 women were arrested for protesting outside of the White House, calling on then president Woodrow Wilson to pass a women’s suffrage amendment. The women were taken to a jail in Virginia, were beaten and abused in what Van Hoy says is often referred to as “the Night of Terror”.
1920: The ratification of the 19th amendment'
As we approach the 2020 presidential election and mark the 100 year anniversary of the 19th amendment, Van Hoy reflects on the tremendous work of those who came before us to get voter rights and equality.
“So I tell my students, ‘when you think, “oh I don’t have time to vote. Well, that’s a long line. I’ve got a lot of work.” Just remember that people died all the way back in 1913, 1917, 1950s. They were lynched so that we could vote. And imagine telling them, “well, you know what, I’m really busy. I don’t think I’ll make it.”
The best way to celebrate this centennial, regardless of race or gender, is to register to vote. The deadline to register to vote in the 2020 presidential election is October 5 in Texas.
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