African American Women in the
Struggle for the Vote, 1850 - 1920
by Rosalyn Terborg-Penn c 1998, 193 pages
Rosalyn Terborg-Penn in front of Anna J. Cooper exhibit at Anacostia Neighborhood Museum.
Reviewed by Sue Straus
"By a miracle the 19th Amendment has been ratified.
We women have now a weapon
of defense which we have never
possessed before. It will be a
shame and reproach to us if we
do not use it."
-Mary Church Terrell, 1920
This slim book is a call for more digging into the history of women of color who were part of the long struggle to bring universal suffrage to the U.S. The struggle continues as we look at polling places being moved out of minority areas, gerrymandered districts, etc.
Terborg-Penn does a good job of pointing out the various actions taken over the 15th Amendment and the split caused within the women's rights movement when some suffragists were willing to support black men getting suffrage before women did, while others were not willing to take a waiting stance.
The anti-suffrage women's movement by women is also given space in the debate. The racial, gender and class differences and its effect upon the struggle for human rights for all makes its way into the story.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett, an activist journalist who promoted the value of women's political mobilization, and anti-lynching crusader, is a figure in the book. She represented the first generation of Black women out of slavery, educated in Freedmen's Bureau schools .
Other women's stories show the overlap of other movements of the day; Naomi Talbert
(Anderson) was a poet and a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. She spoke at the 1869 National Woman Suffrage Convention held in Chicago. Her identification with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton caused censure by a segment of the Black population due to their opposition to former male slaves obtaining the suffrage before women.
Fannie (Frances) Barrier Williams, educator, club woman, political and women's rights activist worked in Chicago after her marriage. She joined the Illinois Women's Alliance and lectured about the need for Black women to vote. She was a co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women and also the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Williams was the only African American woman chosen to eulogize Susan B. Anthony at the National American Woman Suffrage Convention (The National Woman Suffrage Association merged with the American Woman Suffrage Association to form the aforementioned group in 1890.)