Black ExperienceBlack History

History Should Never Forget the Contributions of Suffragist Irene Moorman Blackstone

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.

Irene Moorman Blackstone isn’t a name that immediately jumps off the pages of history – but if Black history were taught in schools, the name undoubtedly would grab attention.
Blackstone, an African American businesswoman who was born in Virginia in 1872, counted as one of the strong Black women of the suffrage movement.
According to historians at Iowa State University, Blackstone is best remembered for her role in bringing racial cooperation into the New York suffrage campaign and for her work to prevent discrimination against African Americans in attaining socio-economic and political equality.
A member of the women’s auxiliary of the Negro Business League of New York, Blackstone served on the boards of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and Young Women’s Christian Association.
In 1907, she joined the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn and worked for several politicians who supported suffrage.
Blackstone also attended Marcus Garvey’s first public lecture in New York and later served as president of the Garvey-founded Ladies’ Division of the New York Chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.
“After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Blackstone focused her attention on UNIA and other programs which worked to prevent discrimination against Blacks in attaining socio-economic and political equality,” the Iowa State University researchers wrote.
In a recent dissertation titled, “When Gilded Suffragists Reached Out to Black Activists,” Johanna Neuman described the interaction between Blackstone and white suffragists.
Neuman, one of the nation’s leading experts on the history of women’s suffrage and an award-winning historian and a scholar in residence at American University, recounted a New York meeting between Blackstone and Alva Vanderbilt Belmont.
Belmont was a prominent socialite who had inherited wealth from two Gilded Age family fortunes.
Adopting the cause of suffragists, Belmont opened her opulent summer cottage for a suffrage fundraiser and single-handedly moved the mainstream National American Women’s Suffrage Association from its tiny headquarters in Warren, Ohio, to sumptuous offices in New York.
Neuman wrote that Belmont started her own new suffrage organization, the Political Equity Association.
“To bridge the distance between the races that had existed in the movement for forty years, she asked Fanny Garrison Villard, daughter of famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, to stand with her as she reached out to women and men of color, Neuman wrote. “For Alva, it was an act of rebellion as well as practicality. Ambitious, she craved fame for her suffrage activism – but infamy would do too, as long as the newspapers gave her ink.”
Neuman continued:
“Willing to upset the strict social codes of a class that often snubbed her after her divorce from a Vanderbilt, she persuaded [Blackstone] that white progressives were interested in extending the female franchise to all women.
“[Blackstone] dutifully organized a suffrage meeting at the Mount Olivet Baptist Church, then on West 53rd Street in New York. Belmont spoke of ‘that bond of humanity and equality, which alone the woman suffrage movement can create.’ If more than half the two hundred in attendance joined her Political Equality Association, she promised to provide them a headquarters’ building. Sign up, they did, and she opened an office in the neighborhood. So unusual was the outreach that the New York Times covered the event. So controversial was it that the Iowa City Press covered it with the alarming headline, ‘Mrs. Belmont Crosses Line.’”
Throughout the 1930s, Belmont continued her activism for the Black community and women’s rights, noted the Iowa State University historians.
Blackstone’s was said to have died in the late 1940s.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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