Let Us Not Forget the Past as Election Day Draws Near
This year our country has been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. Legal organizations, schools, and civic organizations have been celebrating the story of women’s suffrage. The passage marked the largest expansion of democracy in the country’s history. The centennial offers a great opportunity for two different types of explorations: (1) the landmark decision’s place in our democracy, (2) and what the amendment failed to do. It would be several decades before all women, particularly women of color, were able to exercise their voting rights.
Mary McLeod Bethune, founding president of the National Council of Negro Women, turned her sights toward women’s suffrage in the early 1900s, when there was little role for African American women, especially in the South. In 1912, she joined the Equal Suffrage League, an offshoot of the National Association of Colored Women. In an era when even African American men couldn’t vote because of Jim Crow laws, Bethune watched as white-dominated voting rights and suffrage organizations marched and protested nationwide.
Following the 1920 passage of the 19th amendment, Bethune rode a bicycle door-to-door raising money to pay the “poll tax,” a tax imposed by white lawmakers to suppress black voting. Because a literacy test was also required, she conducted night classes to teach reading. When 80 members of the Ku Klux Klan threatened to burn her school, Bethune held an all-night school-front vigil with a groundskeeper and some of her students. The Klan backed down, and Bethune led a procession of 100 African Americans to the polls to vote for the first time in the Daytona mayoral election. She was not a "well-behaved woman," and thank goodness for that.
The fight for suffrage, suffrage for all sectors of our society, has been grueling. Hopefully awareness of the full story of the “suffrage journey” can serve as motivation for We the People to exercise our franchise.