Black ExperienceBlack HistoryStacy M. BrownWomen's Suffrage Movement

Monument and Project to Focus on Black Women of Suffrage Movement

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.

A January article in the New York Times noted the decision to erect a statue of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the Mall in Central Park.

The monument, scheduled for a 2020 unveiling in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, would feature renditions of the two women best known for helping to secure that right — Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The article noted, “that the suffrage movement was big, broad and diverse is meant to be reflected in the image of a scroll unfolding between Anthony and Stanton like a very long to-do list (procure more rolled oats, seek equality) naming and quoting 22 other women whose contributions were greatly significant.”

Of the 22 women selected, seven are African-American. Some of them — Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell — stand as towering figures in the history of American social activism, and yet none is set to receive a statue of her own, in this configuration.

“In effect, the monument, a maquette of which is on display in Albany, manages to recapitulate the marginalization Black women experienced during the suffrage movement to begin with, when, to cite but one example, they were forced by white organizers to congregate in the back during a famous women’s march, in Washington, in 1913, coinciding with Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration,” the article’s author, Ginia Bellafonte, wrote.

Feminist and activist Gloria Steinem told the Times of the monument, that “it is not only that it is not enough, [but] it’s that it looks as if Anthony and Stanton are standing on the names of these other women.”

Bellafonte wrote that the inclusion of the scroll at the center of the monument, and the way the women are positioned toward it, suggests they are writing the history of suffrage, which is in itself problematic because Anthony and Stanton coedited a six-volume compendium – “The History of Women’s Suffrage” – that gave them ownership of a narrative that erased the participation of Black women in the movement.

Last month, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) weighed in.

The DPLA, connects people to the riches held within America’s libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions, announced a project powered by Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates, that will highlight the role of Black women in the suffrage movement.

The project is scheduled for launch in conjunction with the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment in 2020. It will focus on Black women’s activism from 1850s to 1960s, including, but not limited to, their role in the women’s suffrage movement, civil rights movement and women’s right’s movement, according to DPLA.

Cultural artifacts included in the collection will have a clear and compelling relevance to contemporary issues like voting rights and intersectionality, as well as contemporary movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, DPLA said.

In addition, the new collection will expand upon DPLA’s existing collections about Black women’s activism – collections that primarily include source sets on Ida B. Wells and anti-lynching activism; Fannie Lou Hamer and the civil rights movement in rural Mississippi; and the Equal Rights Amendment.

Ultimately, the goal of the new collection will be to elevate Black women’s activism in the national narrative in places where it has been erased.

“Nobody wants to know a colored woman’s opinion about her own status of that of her group,” Mary Church Terrell once wrote. “When she dares express it, no matter how mild or tactful it may be, it is called ‘propaganda,’ or is labeled ‘controversial.'”

For individuals or their libraries interested in learning more, or participating with DPLA on this curation project, contact Shaneé Murrain at shanee@dp.la

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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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