Marching Toward Full Equality

By The Editors 9-15-2015
Woodcut illustration of Ida B. Wells, lifelong fighter for justice, anti-lynching laws, and women's right to vote. Image via /Shutterstock

In the spirit of Aug. 26's Women’s Equality Day, we took to social media and the blogosphere to celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment and 95 years of women voting in the U.S. However, as some of our supporters rightly pointed out, that landmark constitutional victory did not guarantee all women the right to vote. Our efforts should have acknowledged that painful reality.

As we look back at the suffrage movement, it’s important to acknowledge how racism tainted this historic fight for the vote. Many black women activists — such as Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Anna Julia Cooper — were staunch supporters of women’s rights, yet experienced discrimination from fellow suffragists and white supremacists. These divisions, along with conflicting political interests, caused immense friction within the suffrage movement, thus revealing the challenges of fighting sexism in a deeply racist society.

Even after women gained the legal right to vote in 1920, black women continued to endure a long road to justice. Though the 19th Amendment became the law of the land, black women in the South were still disenfranchised under Jim Crow segregation. Through a system of violence, poll taxes, literacy tests, and more, African Americans were deprived of the right to vote. It wasn’t until the 1965 Voting Rights Act that black women — along with AsiansLatino/asIndigenous Americans, and other minorities — were able to cast a ballot without encountering discrimination.

Today these hard-fought gains are under attack. In statehouses across the country, current legislation seeks to undermine the Voting Rights Act through a variety of voter suppression tactics, including photo ID laws, voter registration restrictions, and proof of citizenship requirements.

The right to vote is not only a foundational democratic principle; it is also rooted in the biblical imperative to protect “the least of these.” If we’ve learned anything from the civil rights and suffrage movements, it’s that we must redouble our efforts to protect voting rights across intersections of race, gender, and class. Only then can we achieve full equality, reconciliation, and justice.

While Women’s Equality Day is celebrated each year to commemorate the 19th Amendment, we must never forget all the black women who fought for the right to vote — yet were unable to enjoy the fruits of their labor for decades to come. In honor of their memory, may we do all we can to protect the political empowerment and voice of all God’s children.

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