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Better Days 2020 Reading Club – Week 6: How Black Suffragists Fought for the Right to Vote and a Modicum of Respect

April 27, 2020

We’ve read five articles together through the Better Days 2020 Reading Club, and we hope you’ve enjoyed all of them so far! We have some great topics planned for the next few weeks, so make sure to stay tuned to our social media for our weekly posts.

Hallie Quinn Brown, Library of Congress.

When we discussed the division within the suffrage movement, we mentioned how the major women’s suffrage organizations like NAWSA and the NWP failed to address the concerns of women of color. This week, we’re looking at black suffragists who tackled the issue on their own terms; specifically Hallie Quinn Brown, who led the era’s largest organization of black women, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), from 1920-1924. The NACW continued fighting for voting rights long after most major suffrage organizations declared victory in 1920. Following the 19th Amendment’s ratification, black women and men still faced many barriers in voting, especially in the southern states. Dr. Martha S. Jones’ article explores how black suffragists faced these challenges head on.

Many black women started their suffragist careers by demanding rights for women within their churches. They continued to work for women’s political rights as part of black-led organizations, where they could address the barriers they faced due to both their sex and their race. As Jones explains, “Black women sought the vote to further what they termed human rights, meaning the rights of women and men alike. They were rarely single-issue in their concerns; they battled for political rights while also advocating for temperance, education, prison reform, and the rights of working people. They especially attended to troubles that arose at the crossroads of race and gender.” (Dr. Jones’ latest book Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All will be out this fall.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this year, we’re also honoring the work of black suffragists. Though often sidelined by national suffrage organizations, they continued to fight for the vote and other rights long past 1920.

Questions to consider:

  • How did many black women get started in working for suffrage? What were their concerns?
  • What role did Hallie Quinn Brown play in leading black suffragists? What were some of her goals?
  • What barriers did black women face in voting even after the 19th Amendment passed? 

Make sure to comment on our social media with your thoughts about this week’s article. We would love to hear what you think and start a discussion! Download your printable PDF here, and we’ll see you next week.

Click here for last week’s topic, imagery in the suffrage movement. You can find all of our previous Better Days 2020 Reading Club topics and articles here.

Many thanks to Emma Summers for developing the materials for the Better Days 2020 Reading Club! Emma is an education student from St. Augustine, Florida. She loves to teach in big lecture halls just as much as she does groups of 2-3 students. Social studies is her passion, as well as chocolate chip cookies and Sunday naps.