In a column for NBC News, P.R. Lockhart wrote that while the 19th Amendment is commonly credited with expanding the right to vote to women, it didn’t guarantee all women the right to vote.
Although the amendment, ratified 100 years ago, eased some women’s obstacles at the ballot box, Black women still faced legal barriers, the District-based Lockhart wrote.
Others echo her words, including Howard University professor Valethia Watkins, who said Black women’s right to vote would only be secured with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Black women have only had the legally protected vote for half the time of some other women,” Watkins said.
Still, employing their substantive political and voting power, today’s Black women have continued to mobilize in ways that their suffrage ancestors would likely view with pride.
“Black suffragists extended organizing power from a few vocal leaders to individuals from further underrepresented groups,” said Regi Angelou, a vice-principal, recording artist and activist from New York.
“Black women labored alongside Black men but continued to organize separately, rallying those same men, white women, and distant yet powerful people to hear our needs and to act on behalf of our politics. Micro-influence and micro-organization will continue to be the most impactful tools we have in our belts,” she said.
With their votes finally legally protected under the law, Black voters began to have a more significant impact on elections. For example, during the general election in 2008 and 2012, Black women’s exceptionally high turnout cemented their status as the most loyal Democratic Party voters, Lockhart noted.
“Fast-forward to 2020 and Black women are demanding a return on their investment, calling for party leaders like former Vice President Joe Biden to support policies that improve their communities and for Black women to be treated as viable candidates for political office,” she said.
Lamell McMorris, a civil rights leader who has served on boards including the National Action Network, the NAACP and the National Urban League, said voting rights for Black people have always been met by a constant, uphill battle.
“The struggle is rooted in history when Black people were first not considered fully human and then considered three-fifths of a person. The critical history of Black suffrage serves as an undercurrent for today’s Black Lives Matter movement,” said McMorris who also counts as the founder of Greenlining Realty USA, a firm dedicated to reversing the negative impacts of redlining in neighborhoods across the country.
“Today’s activists need to remain dedicated to their goals just like their predecessors did. They should be encouraged by Black suffragists’ long history for the path was long and hard with victories along the way. The Voting Rights Act was a milestone, yet the fact that we even needed it is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, though much has changed, a lot has stayed the same.”
“Tragically, the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court and the legislation today is in dire need of ratification. Voter suppression remains one of the most pressing issues of our time. And the need to affirm and fight for fair elections and the right for Black people to vote remains. Many organizations, such as Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, are paving the way for the future of Black voting rights,” McMorris said.
This feature is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement initiated by Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes. It lives in the institutional home of The Washington Informer Charities.