OPINION: The Women’s Suffrage Movement Promoted Racism

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Kanesha Ramsey
CONTRIBUTOR

Leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement left out Black women. This Women’s History Month, we reflect on the impact of Black women and their contributions to women’s suffrage and women’s rights. Photo courtesy of Teen Vogue.

Every year, Americans celebrate women’s rights during the month of March. Typically, women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are the designated “Sheros” known to have fought and advocated for all women’s rights.

However, what is not discussed is how the Anthony-Stanton duo wrote the narrative of women’s suffrage, omitting Black women all together.

In prominent historical moments, melanin-dressed women tend to be a miss. Conversely, the Women’s Suffrage Movement proved to be no different. Black women liked Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell and Fannie Barrier Williams fiercely stood as the epitome of women’s rights while fighting discrimination for being a woman and being Black.

Undoubtedly, the Women’s Suffrage Movement was a milestone in securing women’s rights, but it also lacked in racial equality. In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott hosted the Seneca Falls convention, which would be their platform to demand change for women’s rights in America. There were over 300 women in attendance, but few to none were Black women.

Anthony and Stanton became vocal with their concerns in allowing Black men the “legal” right to vote before white women. Note, I use “legal” loosely.

As we know, Black individuals were not granted voting rights without barriers until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Prior to 1965, Black people were subjected to poll taxes, literacy tests, the grandfather clause and many other hindrances affecting their activity at the voting polls. By that point, it would have been evident that white supremacy would imbue the movement.

It is no secret that white feminists excluded Black women from the suffrage movement. During the movement, Susan B. Anthony was quoted declaring, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”

Since Black women were not allowed a seat at the same table as white women, they decided to create their own organizations and clubs promoting themselves.

The inequality represented in the suffrage movement largely mirrors the inequality Black women continue to endure today. Time after time, I am forced to study and read about how Black women were disenfranchised in history.  Black women stood up for what they believed in and protected their communities throughout history. Unlike the Anthony-Stanton duo, Black women like Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells went to war for equal rights for all, not just to be equated to their patriarchal counterparts.

Without the Black woman engaging in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and continuing to do so, although nothing was in their favor, laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would not have been ratified. I am so proud of Black women persevering through a time of oppression, disenfranchisement and underrepresentation.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s remember to celebrate every woman. The Women’s Suffrage Movement was carried by more than just the white woman. Black women fought as well, and did it like bosses. During a time of prominent race discussion, forgetting, omitting or simply not knowing how the suffrage movement promoted racism can lead to false celebrations and contribute to a legacy of ignorance.

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