This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
The suffrage movement undoubtedly left many scars, and today African American women still look back with apathy because of the way their heroic ancestors, who fought for the rights of everyone, were mistreated.
Monique Lewis, founder of the PR consultancy firm ML Management, said the suffragist movement is why she doesn’t identify as a feminist.
“As a Black woman of this current century, I certainly did not grow up without hearing stories of misogyny, discrimination and racism, particularly the intersection of all three when it came to Black women,” Lewis said. “I understood from a young age what the feminist movements did — equality, voting rights, equal pay, and more. What was hidden from me, quite intentionally, were the stories of women who looked like me who was leading or participating in these movements.”
For Lewis, it would take decades of self-education to discover the contributions of Black women in the suffrage movement.
“We literally were the hidden figures, and, often, when white and non-Black women reached their success, they never reached back to pull us up along with them,” Lewis said. “We were utilized and discarded. This is why I vehemently state that I am not a feminist, I am a womanist who stands for and with other Black women.
“Being the most maligned, degraded, and abused, I soon realized that we are forced to rely on each other as we lack support from other women,” she said.
Lewis isn’t alone. New York Times editorial board member Brent Staples wrote that among the suffrage movement’s worst offenses, “it rendered nearly invisible the Black women who labored in the suffragist vineyard and that it looked away from the racism that tightened its grip on the fight for the women’s vote in the years after the Civil War.”
Sinead DeRoiste, of ERA Parrish Realty Legacy Group, said that in today’s economy, Black women continue to earn significantly less than their professional peers, including those of equal or less experience, education, or time committed to an organization.
“If Black women were ever intended to be treated as women and ladies in our society, why hasn’t the toxic masculine popular culture of rap music been addressed for its grotesque misrepresentation of Black women as subjects to degrade either lyrically, visually, physically, or otherwise?” DeRoiste wondered.
“Look at the disproportionate amounts of Black women who are going missing at such alarming rates,” DeRoiste said. “Yet, if Black women were beneficiaries of the women’s empowerment, suffrage, and #MeToo movement, where are the public outrage and uniformed gatherings in honor of fellow women who are continuing to suffer due to inequity both financial, social, and otherwise?”
Film writer and producer Faith DeVeaux, who authored the book “When Duty Calls,” said since she learned that the suffragettes didn’t want to “deal with the color problem,” she lost interest in anything to do with the celebration or remembrance of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.
“Some white feminists that I know don’t even notice that there are no Black women in any of the footage or photos documenting the movement,” she said. “I don’t recall seeing a significant amount of Black women in the 2016 Women’s March in D.C. I’ve seen many articles floating around the internet lately about how Black women are the backbone of the Democratic party and are being taken for granted.
“I’ve just been in a conversation with someone talking about a local production on the suffrage movement,” DeVeaux said. “The only Black woman included is Ida B. Wells.”