Learning from an African American Woman’s Reflection on the 19th Amendment
The following interview was originally hosted on Just Pursuits, conducted by my friend, and business partner, Jessica Petty.
To celebrate Black History Month this year, I made a commitment to engage in more meaningful conversations to better understand what systemic barriers still exist in our quest for a fair and just America. As a researcher of diversity and inclusion issues, I find tremendous value in analyzing history from multiple viewpoints, so I once again asked Bryana Clover if she would share her reflections on the 100-year anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment.
For me personally, being a Nashville native, I have always had a sense of pride for the part our city played in the quest for women’s right to vote. In the summer of 1920, in the capital city, Tennessee became the 36thstate to ratify the amendment, which meant the denial of the right to vote based on gender was no longer allowed by law. Over my lifetime, I have seen the historical markers and statues celebrating this historic achievement that are present in our city and I felt proud.
It is a one-sided history that I know.
I am thankful to Bryana for sharing her thoughts and opening my eyes to a broader view of the upcoming celebrations of the 19th Amendment and the work we still have left to do.
From Bryana Clover:
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th amendment, which was a milestone to securing white women’s right to vote. Forty-five years later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed, aimed to overcome barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African- Americans from exercising their right to vote. In the spirit of Black History Month, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, I approached my learning and reflection with a critical look at the truth of our past, to better understand the ways in which African-Americans today are still being challenged by laws that suppress their voice and their ballot.
The truth is, within the white suffrage movement, there were a number of racially discriminatory practices and the condoning of white supremacist ideologies in order to garner southern support for white women’s voting rights. While white women were fighting for gender equality, African-American women were fighting for gender equality and racial equality. Fredrick Douglass eloquently (and harshly) challenged the unrealistic expectation that African-American women could ‘magically’ separate their blackness from their gender.
“When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung up on lampposts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.” – Fredrick Douglass
I want to honor the resilience of the many African-American women suffragists, who, despite the odds against them, fought tirelessly to pave the way for universal equality at the ballot and beyond: Sojourner Truth (1796?-1883); Ida B Wells-Barnett (1862-1931); Charlotte Vandine Forten (1785-1884); Harriet Forten Purvis (1810-1875); Margaretta Forten (1806-1875); Dorothy Height (1912-2010); Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954); Angelina Weld Grimke (1880-1958); Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893); Mary Talbert (1866-1923); and so many more.
In the pursuit of speaking truth to power, I am in a constant unlearning process.
As I sat down to reflect and learn about the 19th amendment, and what that truly meant for my African-American ancestors, my heart and mind was opened. On one hand, I am so proud of, and thankful for, the African American truth-tellers that have come before me. On the other hand, I grieve the absence of their stories in my education and the general public. I am left with a lot of what-if’s.
What if we celebrated the 19th amendment by recognizing that the true victory was not won in 1920, nor was it won in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act? And, it still has not been won! What if the unlearning of our white-washed history, along with the uplifting and remembering of our African-American sisters’ impact on universal suffrage could give us the power to move mountains? Could give us the strength and influence to break down the existing barriers to achieving true gender equality? What if we let black women lead? Oh, the places they would lead us! All of these what-if’s aren’t intended to understate the significance of any one event or person, but rather to challenge us to get real with our history, and motivated us to constantly pursue the truth. Afterall, only the truth will set all of us free.
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