NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK’S WOMEN LEADERS—
RECOGNIZE BLACK WOMEN WHO FOUGHT FOR VOTING RIGHTS BEYOND THE 19TH AMENDMENT ON WOMEN’S EQUALITY DAY
On August 26, 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State certified that the required 36 states had ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Remember that while all women got the vote in 1920, not all were immediately allowed to exercise that right, not all used the vote the same way, and not all used it to further the interests of all women.
Black women’s efforts have challenged racism and sexism to fight for the right to vote and are frequently excluded from the history of women’s suffrage. This moment looked very different to America’s 5.2 million Black women — 2.2 million of whom lived in the South, where Jim Crow laws threatened to keep them off the voter rolls. Their fight wasn’t just about gender. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and other mechanisms systematically disenfranchised Black women (and men) from voting. They knew that their full voting rights would only come with federal legislation to override Jim Crow laws. It marked the start of a new fight to secure voting rights for all Americans and linked women’s and civil rights in one great push for dignity and power.
This means the celebration of the 19th Amendment must also recognize the gravity of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which finally made suffrage possible for millions of Black women and other marginalized communities. Yet even today, the Black vote remains under constant threat. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act, thereby putting Black women’s right to the vote in jeopardy once again. Since then, states across the country have chipped away at voting rights, impacting vulnerable communities the most.
Voting rights in America have always been born of struggle. Those battles women fought more than 100 years ago echo today, which is why it is imperative we still organize, lead, empower, and work against voter suppression — especially for Black women and men. We must clear all barriers to inequality, whether it is the right to vote or access to education and sufficient healthcare. The National Action Network’s intergenerational women leaders will continue to empower one another to tear down those barriers in our fight for justice.