On this day, 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote. African American women were largely excluded because of their race. For generations black women would continue to push for equality. During those difficult times, they planned and protest, because they knew that even if they were guaranteed the right to vote; they would still have to fight to live.
Women like Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was a former slave during the 1800s who became a successful seamstress. Keckley made dresses for both white women and freed Black women after learning how to sew from her mother Agnes Hobbs, who too was a slave. Keckley moved on to Washington, DC where she became an activist and author. Keckley soon after was appointed as the personal confidante of First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln.
We all know the story of Shirley A. Chisholm; a New York native who served as an educator, politician, and profound author. Chisholm parents was of Caribbean descent, so she learned the meaning of hard work at a very young age. Growing up, she witnessed her community protest for their rights, including her father who was an avid supporter of Jamaican publisher, Marcus Garvey. In 1953, Chisholm enter the world of politics and later became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress.
Fast forward to 2020, Kamala Harris becomes the Democratic vice president nominee for the 2020 election. She is the first African American, the first Asian-American, and the third female vice president running mate on a major party ticktet. Harris grew up in Berkeley, California, going to both a black church and Hindu temple. She experienced racism firsthand at the tender age of 7 when her parents divorced. During visitations with her father, neighborhood kids were not allowed to play with her because she was Black. Despite her challenges over the years, she continued to persevere and later became a district attorney. Recently, Harris paid homage to the generations of women who paved the way before her.
One hundred years ago, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was formally adopted. Courageous American women had been organizing and protesting for seven decades to be treated as equal participants in our democracy, and their hard work finally paid off. After ratification votes from 36 states, it was official: Our Constitution would forevermore enshrine the right to vote for American women.
That is, unless you were Black. Or Latina. Or Asian. Or Indigenous.
We cannot mark this day, now known as Women’s Equality Day, without remembering all the American women who were not included in that voting rights victory a century ago. Black activists such as Ida B. Wells had dealt with discrimination and rejection from White suffragists in their work to secure the vote. And when the 19th Amendment was ratified at last, Black women were again left behind: Poll taxes, literacy tests and other Jim Crow voter suppression tactics effectively prohibited most people of color from voting.
Keckley, Chisholm, and Harris are just a few examples of women who fought and broke barriers set before them; true thoroughbreds. Let’s not only commemorate those women, but women like yourself who are fighting every day, even in the face of adversity. Your resilience and determination will be what put “Qualified” people in office, eliminate senseless killings, and transform the world as we know it. So, get ready, we got work to do…
Shirt (I wore as a dress): ASHLEY STEWART