August 21, 2020

Today marks 100 years since the landmark ratification and adoption of the 19th Amendment, which affixed a promise into the U.S. Constitution that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The 19th Amendment was a resolute victory for the progress of voting rights. Despite the inclusive language of the amendment, the women’s suffrage movement that championed its passage also reinforced divisions over the question of suffrage for Black people that undermined the amendment’s impact and subsequently its legacy.

Prevalent and persistent racism throughout the era, when the amendment was being debated, contaminated the suffrage movement, resulting in an amendment that largely secured the vote for middle-class white women at the expense of women of color, especially Black women. Even after the passage of the amendment, many women of color were still precluded from voting through pervasive intimidation and tactics of voter suppression, denial of citizenship based on ancestry or immigrant status, as well as overt racial discrimination. Many of the white suffragists gave insufficient attention to the reality of Black women at the intersection of gender and race, often asserting that the fights for gender equality and racial justice were unrelated. In exchange for political expediency, this lack of intersectionality served as a betrayal to Black women suffragists, and other women of color fighting to be able to participate fully in the American democratic process.

One of the most influential suffragists was Sojourner Truth. What do you know about Sojourner Truth? Watch this TedEd talk by Daina Ramey Berry.