“How the Daughters and Granddaughters of Former Slaves Secured Voting Rights for All,” Martha Jones.


Martha Jones is a professor of History at The Johns Hopkins University. More precisely she is a legal and cultural historian of African Americans. She is the author of several books, notably Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum American, and the forthcoming  2020 book Vanguard: A Political History of African American Women. She will be one of the speakers at the International Conference ‘‘‘How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?:’ Woman Suffrage and Women’s Citizenship in the Long History of the 19th Amendment,’’ where she will present her forthcoming book.

Martha Jones looks at the question of how the daughters and granddaughters of former slaves secured voting rights for all women. She focuses on the questions of race and gender in the context of the Voting Rights Act and the history of Black people’s vote. In this article, M. Jones is presenting several African American women who fought for women’s right to vote. 

Martha Jones explains that African American women have a history of fighting for their rights—here the Voting Rights Act— in ‘‘their own way.’’ She acknowledges the fact that black women and white women clashed at some point during this campaign for the Voting Rights Act.  

 She highlights the importance of the Church in the history of black women and their activism. It was the place where African American women could develop ‘‘their sense of rights and how then to organize for them.’’ She explains her argument through the relevant example of a black woman, Julia Foote, who became the leader of a churchwomen’s movement advocating for women to ‘‘be entitled to occupy pulpits and interpret the scriptures.’’ They won the case in 1848, the very same year of the Seneca Falls Convention.

Julia Foote, source: “Julia A. J. Foote,” wikiwand.

Black women and men fought for their enfranchisement. Yet, at the time of the 15th Amendment, a sort of consensus was reached among black women that the franchise for all men, regardless of their race, should be obtained before their own suffrage. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was one of these women. For Martha Jones, Watkins Harper was a ‘‘political visionary’’ because she advocated a spirit of unity among women of color. Yet, divergences of opinions existed among women and they divided into two associations: the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) and the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). Both defended women’s right to vote, but the former was in favor of the 15th Amendment, and the latter was against it because it did not include women’s suffrage. 

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, source: “How Early Suffragists Sold Out Black Women,” history.com.

Further in the article, Martha Jones looks at Eliza Gardner, who started her career with church activism. She was among the women who founded the National Conference of Colored Women in 1895. With other black female activists they ‘‘tackle[ed] national problems’’ such as ‘‘the rise of segregation, racial violence and the disenfranchisement that affected black men and women alike.’’

Eliza Gardner, source: “Eliza Ann Gardner,” Wikipedia.

 It is the very fact that black women ‘‘had always strived to enhance their power’’ that allowed them to obtain the right to vote in Illinois, in 1916. Through their churches and clubs, they became activists who were engaged in marching, electioneering or even voting. Illinois was only the first step towards the 19th Amendment in 1920. Gender and race shaped black women’s history and fight for their rights. Michelle Obama highlighted this fact by saying that it was what shaped black women’s political identities. 

You can access the entire article written by Martha Jones and further details by following this link: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-daughters-and-granddaughters-former-slaves-secured-voting-rights-all-180971660/


Marine Gomes


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