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.
Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.
But it was the determination of the black women of the suffrage movement that turned the tide in America. Today, black women have continued to shake things up at the ballot box, primarily because of their ancestors who marched, rallied, and died for the right to vote.
“We all know black people – particularly black women – were still excluded from gaining access to the voting booth,” said Charlane Oliver, who serves as the Community Liaison and part of the Communications Staff for U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper.
Oliver also has more than a dozen years of experience in nonprofit management, civil service, public relations, and communications.
“While the 19th Amendment, the landmark legislation, had its baked-in, white supremacist undertones, it still signaled progress and led the way for black women to wield tremendous voting power today,” Oliver stated.
That power was unleashed during recent elections and should be on display in 2020.
“We’ve always had to save America from itself by putting a check on candidates who want to take us backward,” Oliver said.
“We saw this in 2017 when Democrat Doug Jones was elected to the Senate by 98 percent of black women in Alabama, and we witnessed in Tennessee during the 2018 midterms when 20 black women won local municipal races. It’s also why The Equity Alliance launched Black Women for Tennessee last year, to recognize our longstanding contributions to politics and showcase the reliable power we have when we vote,” Oliver continued.
“The black women vote cannot and will not be denied in the 2020 presidential election because we will show up in large numbers at the polls,” Oliver said.
In her 2007 book, “When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America,” Paula Giddings noted how African American women’s suffrage activism breathed life into the broader U.S. Women’s Suffrage movement.
“From poor, uneducated African American women, to comparatively elite women such as Mary Church Terrell, African American women suffragists fought tenaciously for the right to vote,” Giddings writes.
Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, African American women remained undeterred in their commitment to securing the right to vote, she said.
“I would like to see more people talking about and publicizing the importance of the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniversary,” said Stacy Caprio, who works with a District marketing and growth firm.
“I think if more people realized what a privilege it is to vote, more would not take it for granted, and we’d see a higher turnout at the pools, which would be beneficial for everyone,” Caprio said.
The dynamic voter turnout of black women is built upon a long legacy of black female activism, said Pearl Dowe, the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Oxford College of Emory University.
“It was also built on political engagement,” Dowe said.
“Black women have always viewed political engagement as a viable means to address the needs of their communities,” Dowe stated.
Further, it should always be noted that black women advocated for the right to vote at a time when they were highly discriminated against, and black men had become disenfranchised, added Dowe.
“These women were often shut out of the suffrage movement due to the racist attitudes of white suffragettes. This did not deter Black women who formed their own organizations to advocate for the right to vote for themselves and the end of black male disenfranchisement,” Dowe stated.
Because of the black women of the suffrage movement, African American women “collectively raising their voices and demanding action through the ballot box should be expected and will continue in the future,” Dowe said.