Mary Church Terrell
Mary Church Terrell (Forten/NPS Archives)

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.

One hundred years after the passage of the 19th Amendment and the gallant, self-sacrificing work of Black women from all walks of life, an African-American woman stands in Delaware to formally accept the nomination to become the first female vice president in American history.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) plans to accept the nomination during the Democratic National Convention.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the convention takes place virtually with Harris and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden joining the convention from Biden’s home state of Delaware.

The significance of the event — and the timing that coincides with the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote — has not been lost on Harris or millions of others. Nor has it been lost on historians or African Americans who have followed the plight of Black women as it unfolded in the nation’s suffrage movement.

Some have followed the story over the past year through the pages of The Washington Informer where since July 2019 and at the direction of Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, the newspaper has chronicled the struggles and triumphs of Black women in the movement.

Over the past 52-plus weeks, our readers learned about Sojourner Truth, a slave in upstate New York and the first known African-American suffragist.

Other African-American sheroes have included: Charlotte Vandine Forten, Harriet Forten Purvis, Margaretta Forten, Angelina Weld Grimke, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Sarah Remond, Charlotta Rollin, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Gertrude Bustill Mossell, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Carrie Langston, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Talbert, Mary E. Jackson, Adella Hunt Logan, Mary McCurdy, Fannie Barrier Williams, Coralie Franklin Cook and Nannie Helen Burroughs.

“Black suffragists played a key role in the suffrage movement all over America, especially through clubs and local churches,” said Tina Cassidy, author of “Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait? Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the Right to Vote.”

“The relentless hand of the Black suffragette has hauled the rocks of freedom on her beaten backs moving each boulder for the white female vote before her own was even a part of the conversation,” stated Alison M. Parker, chair and Richards Professor of American History at the University of Delaware and the author of “Unceasing Militant: The Life of Mary Church Terrell.”

“She had a vision and volition. She moves like a satin blouse covering the breast of lady liberty’s quintessential right to vote and smoothly shaping the unflattering edges of an American narrative which (try as it may) could not exclude her,” Parker wrote in an email to The Washington Informer.

Veronique Ehamo, a human rights activist and doctoral candidate in Politics and International Relations with a focus on African Studies, said Black women wield much power because they are the driving force of any institution both in the public and private spheres.

Black women of the suffrage women are responsible for much of that power, Ehamo said.

“When given the opportunity, Black women not only thrive but excel immeasurably — take college education statistics as an example. It is important to acknowledge the crucial role Black women played in getting the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments passed,” she continued.

“Now decades past suffrage movements, with firm allegiance Black women continue to vocally support agendas that cater to the betterment of lives of people of color. Not only do we show up but we influence others to take part in the voting process, canvas for politicians and campaign on the front lines for mutual objectives.”

“To maintain an upstanding partnership with Black female voters, both Democrats and Republicans should be cognizant of all mentioned key factors. Assuring the interest of Black women is being met by their political platforms is paramount,” she said.

As Harris accepts the vice presidential nomination this week — and should fortune shine on her — be sworn in in January — many are more educated than in year’s past on the vital role that Black women played before, during and after the suffrage movement.

“Today’s Black women activists have similar priorities to their foremothers,” Parker, the University of Delaware professor, stated.

“They want an unhindered right to vote, a real place at the table in politics and an end to police violence against Black women like Sandra Bland and Tanisha Anderson,” she said.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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