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The BIPOC Journey to Suffrage

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Women earned the right to vote 100 years ago, but history focuses on the stories of White Suffragettes, leaving out women of color whose stories deserve to be told. Even today, as a Black woman runs for Vice President for the first time, we do not have equal representation in the political landscape across races, genders, ages, classes, or other intersections. Today, we amplify the voice of a young woman of color who has pushed me to think more deeply about how I represent myself and what I accept from others. Thank you to our guest author, Roshni Khosla, for sharing her perspective with us and consistently challenging me to reflect on my own perceptions. -Taylor Bunn, Executive Director, Hope 4 All

Happy Election Day!

As American women celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s adoption into the U.S. Constitution, we must not overstate it’s reach in expanding the vote to all women. Popular white suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, whom we tend to entirely credit for earning women their right to participate in democracy, campaigned for suffrage using racist rhetoric including their “woman first and negro last” slogan. Stanton and Anthony worked with white supremacists who argued that extending the vote to white women would support the maintenance of governmental power being reserved for whites only.

It has become an exhausting trope. For the past decade, news outlets, politicians, and pollsters have been almost gleefully patting themselves on the back for loudly and proudly announcing that Black women are single-handedly saving America. In what can only be described as the ultimate backhanded compliment, America seems to think that by loudly proclaiming these women to be the saviors of the country, it somehow absolves centuries of intentional oppression, suppressed votes, and systemic white supremacy designed to strip these same women of their very humanity. While the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920, BIPOC women had to continue to fight fervently – rallying behind the likes of Mary Church Terrell and Nannie Helen Burroughs, all the while facing beatings, lynching, and systemic racism – in pursuit of an American promise that was never actually intended for them.

The fact is, BIPOC women have the right to vote because of women generations before us battling, fighting, and dying for that right – not because America gave it to us. The fact is, BIPOC women were never intended to be considered equal in a society that profits and thrives off their suffering and repression. The fact is, BIPOC women do not owe this country, any candidate, or any party our vote. The burden falls on us especially, and all voters, to carry on the work of BIPOC suffragettes who have died in pursuit of the right to vote and a healthier and safer future for BIPOC women of the future.

However, to be very clear: BIPOC women do not owe you our vote. We don’t owe it to the enriched, entitled elitists, and we don’t owe it to the media to be some type of “feel good” piece that gives the illusion that we live in a post-racist society. We don’t owe it to the 19th Amendment. We don’t owe it to America.

We owe it to ourselves.

BIPOC women should not feel obligated to save America – but by voting, we have the opportunity to help save ourselves and create a brighter future for generations to come.

Notable Black Suffragists

Mary Church Terrell (1863 – 1954)

  • One of the first Black women to earn a college degree

  • Founding member of the National Association of Colored Women

  • Founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

  • Continued participating in picket lines into her 80’s, protesting segregation at businesses in D.C.

Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879 – 1961)

  • Founding member of the National Association of Colored Women

  • Founder of the National Training School for Women and Girls in D.C.

  • Wrote articles for leading African American press, attacking racial injustices

  • Furthered opportunities for women beyond housework

Ida B. Wells (1862 – 1931)

  • Founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

  • Called out white suffragists for neglecting to acknowledge racial injustice

  • Organized anti-lynching campaigns

  • Organized the Alpha Suffrage Club to further voting rights for all women, elect Black politicians to city offices, and teach Black women how to participate in politics

Learn more about these and other BIPOC Suffragettes here and here.

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