Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 6

FROM OUR PRESIDENT

BLACK SUFFRAGISTS

Forgotten No More

Connect
with Susie:
shoffman@dcbar.org

A

s we enter Women's History
Month and count down to the 100th
anniversary of the 19th Amendment,
it seems more than fitting to recognize the crusaders in the movement. In
reading about suffrage in preparation for
the D.C. Bar's 2020 Conference (June 24-26),
I am astonished by how long it took to pass
the amendment - more than 70 years of
relentless advocacy - and the sheer
number and diversity of individuals and
organizations that worked toward this goal.
When we think of the fight for the vote,
we think of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth
Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and a few other
recognizable names. But in this column,
I will bypass the "usual suspects," important
though they are, and instead celebrate the
work of "the Forgotten Suffragists," as writer
Kimberly Hamlin called them - the black
women who were a critical part of the
suffrage movement.
Photo: Joe Shymanski

6

WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

MARCH/APRIL 2020

Commentators have noted that black women
had even more of a stake in their role as suffragists than white women. For them, suffrage was
not just a gender equity issue but also a civil
rights one. In his July 28, 2018, opinion piece
in the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning
editorial writer Brent Staples wrote: "Black
women, most of whom lived in the South, were
seeking the ballot for themselves and their
men, as a means of empowering black communities besieged by the reign of racial terror that
erupted after Emancipation."1 Thus, it is logical
that many of the black suffragists were also
abolitionists and civil rights activists.
In her book African American Women in the
Struggle for the Vote, professor Rosalyn TerborgPenn named more than 30 black women
leaders in the suffrage movement who were
great orators, journalists, organizers, and
demonstrators. Singling out the efforts of
just a few is a challenge. While this column
primarily focuses on those with a connection to
Washington, D.C., any mention of black women
suffragists must start with former slaves Harriet
Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Both spoke with
passion and power at women's rights meetings
and conventions in the mid-1850s and 1860s.
Even though she is best known for her work
in rescuing slaves through the Underground
Railroad, Harriet Tubman also attended antislavery meetings, black rights conventions, and
women's suffrage meetings. After the Civil War
ended, Tubman supported her friends Stanton
and Anthony, touring New York, Boston, and
Washington, D.C., to advocate for women's
equality and voting rights. Like Tubman,
Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and a charismatic speaker whose prominence as an activist
and whose work during the Civil War earned
her a meeting with President Lincoln in 1864.
Sadly, the history of African American suffragists
includes their exclusion from the predominantly
white national suffrage organizations due to
political exigency or racism or both. "Despite all
this important work by black suffragists, the
mainstream suffrage movement continued

its racially discriminatory practices and even
condoned white supremacist ideologies in
order to garner southern support for white
women's voting rights," wrote professor Sharon
Harley, who teaches black women's labor
history and racial and gender politics at
the University of Maryland, College Park.2
Undeterred by this exclusion, black suffragists
like Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Mary Church
Terrell persevered courageously in their efforts.
With the nation's capital as the center of major
political and social movements, it is not surprising
that several of these influential women had ties
to Washington, D.C. Cary is reputed to be the
first black woman in North America to establish
and edit a weekly newspaper, and later the first
woman law student at Howard University and
one of the first African American women to
become a lawyer. An ardent suffragist, Cary
attempted to register to vote in the District
of Columbia in 1871 along with several other
women. When refused the right, they compelled
officials to sign affidavits evidencing their intent.
Interestingly, this was a year before the more wellknown episode in which Anthony was imprisoned for voting illegally in a presidential election.
In 1876 Cary requested that the National
Woman Suffrage Association add the names
of 94 African American suffragists to the
Declaration of Sentiments, but they were
refused. Nevertheless, Cary remained steadfast
in her support of suffrage, which led to another
first - her formation in the District of the
Colored Women's Progressive Franchise
Association, likely the first African American
suffrage organization, which linked suffrage
to education, labor, and economic issues. Sadly,
Cary died in 1893 before she could see the
culmination of her work.
Cary's association is emblematic of the creation
of black women's clubs to achieve their goals
in the late 19th century. Terrell, a well-known
Washingtonian, is often credited with building
black women's clubs as a tool for reform. After
attending Oberlin College, Terrell settled in the
continued on page 53



Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
Women of Impact feature
The Race to End Roe feature
Solar Power Access Feature
Taking the Stand
On Further Review
Global & Domestic Outlook
Member Spotlight – Joesphine Wang
Member Spotlight - Fatemah Albader
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Disciplinary Summaries
Pro Bono Effect
Portraits of Suffrage's Overlooked Heroes
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Women of Impact feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 11
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 12
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 14
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 18
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - The Race to End Roe feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Solar Power Access Feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 32
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 34
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Member Spotlight – Joesphine Wang
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Member Spotlight - Fatemah Albader
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 44
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 47
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Portraits of Suffrage's Overlooked Heroes
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 51
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 52
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 55
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Cover4
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