Black Suffragists

Everything Black women do for civil rights pays off triple: for themselves, for all women, and for all men of color. This is particularly evident in the fight for full voting rights.

This exhibit spotlights just some of the amazing women who devoted themselves to freedom and equality. For more, search “Black Suffragists” or click the tag “Black Suffragists” on any item.

Pre-Civil War Black Suffragists

African-American women began to agitate for political rights in the 1830s, creating Female Anti-Slavery Societies in New York and Philadelphia. Sexism kept women from leadership roles in male-led abolitionist groups, so they made their own. Throughout the 19th century, African-American women like Harriet Forten Purvis, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper worked on two fronts simultaneously: reminding African-American men and white women that Black women needed legal rights, especially the right to vote.

Post-Civil War Black Suffragists

After the Civil War, the women's rights movement split over whether to support ratification of the 15th Amendment. The split was framed as a conflict between white women and black men - see Racism in the Movement - and left little space for African-American women, who nonetheless continued their suffrage activism. By the 1890s, the mainstream women's suffrage movement had become explicitly racist and exclusionary. African-American women worked for voting rights through local women's clubs and the National Association of Colored Women.

Black Suffragists in the early 20th Century

Women won the vote in dozens of states in the 1910s. W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP advocated women’s suffrage nationwide, and African-American women - most notably, Ida B. Wells - created powerful voting blocks in Chicago and elsewhere. Professor Martha Jones reminds us that Black women were the only women to vote as a block from the beginning.

Black Suffragists after the 19th Amendment

The struggle for the vote did not end with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 expanded voting rights substantially, but did not address the racial terrorism that prevented African-Americans in southern states from voting, regardless of sex. Women like Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Diane Nash continued the fight for voting rights for all, culminating in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

--Some text of this exhibit originally written by @DailySuffragist for the Wikipedia entry "African-American women's suffrage movement"--

Black Suffragists