March is Women’s History Month, when we stop to reflect on women’s tremendous achievements in this nation and the world. At this time, however, on the heels of Black History Month, we would like to focus our attention on the accomplishments and heroics of Black Women. All too often, the achievements of Black women throughout history and their impact on society are often overlooked or ignored. These hidden figures have changed the fabric of our nation and the world.
The evidence of this truth is easily found in the Suffrage Movement, a pivotal moment in the history of women’s rights in the United States. Women from all backgrounds and races fought tirelessly for the right to vote. It is a story often told, however, from a narrow perspective, leaving out the significant contributions of Black women to the suffrage movement and passage of the 15th and 19th Amendments.
Even though the suffrage movement failed to support the right of Black women to vote, Black women continued to advocate for the right of all women to vote, including their white counterparts, while facing racism and discrimination from the people with whom they marched. Mary Church Terrell, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Harriet Tubman were Black reformers who recognized that race and gender influenced their rights and opportunities. Mary Church Terrell dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of black women. Mary was a member of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and served as its president from 1896 to 1901. She also worked with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to help secure the right to vote for women. Terrell used her platform to speak out against racism and sexism. She believed that black women should have the same rights as white women, and she fought for this cause tirelessly.
Sojourner Truth is one of the most renowned figures in the fight for women’s civil rights. She was born into slavery and became a prominent abolitionist and women’s rights activist. In 1851, she delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” at a women’s rights convention in Ohio, challenging the notion that women were too weak and delicate to have the same rights as men. While Sojourner is not a hidden figure when it comes to fighting for African Americans’ rights, her fight for the equal rights for all women is merely an afterthought in the history books.
Black women like Sojourner Truth, Mary Church Terrell, and countless others played a crucial role in the fight for women’s suffrage and civil rights in America.
In addition to these prominent figures, many Black women organized and advocated for suffrage at the local level. Clubs like the National Association of Colored Women in Boston, founded by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Charlotte Forten Grimke, discussed ways of attaining civil rights and women’s suffrage. In 1913, Ida B. Wells founded the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, the nation’s first Black women’s club focused on suffrage.
The contributions of Black women to the suffrage movement were not limited to their advocacy work, as they also faced significant barriers when trying to exercise their right to vote. Over several decades, tens of thousands of African Americans worked tirelessly to secure suffrage. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement brought renewed attention to voting rights, and Black women played a central role in the fight for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. From Coretta Scott King to Fannie Lou Hamer, Black women, once again, helped lift the voices of the people to secure fair and equal treatment. The passage of this landmark legislation represented the culmination of more than a century of efforts by Black women to attain equal rights.
Black women like Sojourner Truth, Mary Church Terrell, and countless others played a crucial role in the fight for women’s suffrage and civil rights in America. Despite facing racism and discrimination, they persevered and fought for their right to participate in democracy. Their legacy continues to inspire us today as we work to build a more just and equitable society. Without their sacrifice, we would not have Vice President Kamala Harris, Supreme Court Justice Katanji Brown Jackson, Mayor Karen Bass and many others.
Let us look to the hidden figures in our history and shine the spotlight on their remarkable accomplishments so that they may take their rightful place on the center stage of justice and equality for all.