Martha S. Jones (Photo by Aaron Salcido via Zócalo Public Square)
Martha S. Jones (Photo by Aaron Salcido via Zócalo Public Square)

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.

As the centennial anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States approaches, talk of heroines grows.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton will likely top the list of names recognized for their fight for women’s suffrage. Their stories have become the standard, but professor Martha S. Jones has continued to show that the overwhelmingly white women’s movement wasn’t the deciding factor that won most Black women the right to vote.

Securing those rights required a movement of their own, Jones writes in her forthcoming book, “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Fought for Rights for All.”

According to her biography, Jones, the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is also a legal and cultural historian whose work examines how Black Americas have shaped the story of American democracy. She’s also the author of the 2007 book “All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture 1830-1890” and the co-editor of the 2005 book “Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women.”

Basic Books, the publisher of “Vanguard,” wrote that Jones “offers a new history of African American women’s political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons.”

From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of Black women — Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer and others — who were the vanguard of women’s rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.

In a 2019 essay for The National Endowment of the Humanities, Jones dissected the challenges African Americans faced during and after the suffrage movement.

She noted that, in 1923, in the wake of the 19 amendment’s ratification, Hallie Quinn Brown denounced a proposal by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to dedicate a monument to the mythical Black mammy of the South — a figure in servant’s garb cradling a white infant.

“[Hallie Quinn Brown’s] words cut: Rather than loyal supplicants, ‘slave women were brutalized, the victims of white man’s caprice and lust. Often the babe torn from her arms was the child of her oppressor,’” Jones wrote.

She noted that, as president of the National Association of Colored Women, Hallie Quinn Brown spoke the thoughts of many thousands, descendants of enslaved women who derided the hypocrisy of white southerners who in “one generation held the Black mammy in abject slavery [and in] the next would erect a monument to her fidelity.”

She doubted the “deep reverence and gratitude” professed to undergird the monument. White Southern women would better “make restitution,” Hallie Quinn Brown advised, by interceding with their husbands and fathers to “with one hand upraised … stop mob rule and lynching.”

“The ‘mammy’ figure, rather than new, was part of a long-standing Lost Cause myth that relied on the fiction that enslaved people had been docile, content, and loyal to slaveholders,” Jones continued.

Although the monument appealed to Congress, African Americans stood strong against it, seeing through its irony, Jones noted.

“The ‘mammy’ monument controversy erupted at a historic crossroads,” she wrote. “It was one part a story about how the UDC promoted the Lost Cause. It was also a story about the emerging power of the NAACP.”

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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