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tv   African American Womens Activism Suffrage  CSPAN  November 30, 2020 9:04am-10:05am EST

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you're watching c-span3, created by america's cable company as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider. next, martha jones, author of "vanguard: how black women broke barriers, won the vote and insisted on equality for all" talks about some of the ways african-american bim involved in women's suffrage and other political movements in the first half of the 1920s. the united states historical society and women's suffrage sen tonial commission hosted this event. dr. martha jones was the very first scholar that we recruited for this symposium. back in the day when you could see one another, i went over to baltimore and we had coffee and got to know each other a little bit. and she agreed she would come and keynote our conference. and so we are so honored. dr. jones is a historian, a
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writer and commentator whose work has focused on how black americans shaped the history of american democracy. her most recent book, which just came out, is called "vanguard: how black women overcame barriers, won the vote and insisted on equality for all." this book is fascinating. you have to -- you have to get it. it starts with dr. jones' grandmother, susie jones, and i must admit, i haven't finished the book but it has amazing stories of women who really have made a difference. we look forward, dr. jones, to hearing your story. so let me just tell you a little bit about dr. jones. she was born in central harlem, and was originally trained as an attorney, and was working on social justice issues after being trained in new york.
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and so after law school, she became a public interest lawyer and spent nearly ten jeers representing homeless people, people with mental illness, women living with aids. in 1994 she was awarded a charles reston fellowship on the future of the city of new york at columbia university based on her lawyering work. and there her correct took an interesting turn as she was turn to the research and writing of eric fonner. and saw his career linked history and scholarship and social justice. and she discovered what she called her inner archive rat, which she will have to explain to us what that really is, learn the politics of history and stayed at columbia to hearn a ph.d. in history. and from there spent the next 16
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years teaching history, law and african-american studies at the university of michigan. and in 2017 she came to baltimore as the black alumni presidential professor at johns hopkins university. there since then she has earned too many awards to mention. so let me just say she's an acclaimed scholar. in 2019 her alma mater, the kuehnese school of law, awarded her a doctor of law on an honorary basis. she spring she and her husband, who is french, go back and forth across the atlantic, although they haven't been able to do that this year, but she's definitely a citizen of the world. and so we are very honored to have dr. margin jones share with us what really is the impact of
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black women who now have the right to vote and will fight every day to make sure that every person has a right to vote on the politics of this democracy. >> thank you to you, jane, tonight u.s. capitol historical society. i'm extremely honored to have been a part of what has been an extraordinary series of conversations, insights. and i look forward to the work that we'll all do together out of this symposium experience. so thank you so much. my theme is inneed the 19th amendment and how this year we are striving to both mark the sen tannial and move from, if you will, myth to history.
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the story is one facet of our national reckoning with the past, especially the role the nation played in shaping a nation. and my hope is through the opportunity we have in this anniversary year to better understand what happened in 1920 is, we might fashion new ways forward in our own moment. now some people may know if you mention to me we're celebrating the centennial 19th amendment, i might cringe a little bit. don't get me wrong. as jane campbell said, i've just finished a book about the history of black women and the vote, and i'm as interested as anyone in this anniversary year and its significance for our nation's past and present, and still i can't quite bring a spirit of celebration to the occasion. i worry that it just might get in the way of the story i have to share with you today.
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when we appreciate the open secret about the 19th amy in 1920, the open secret is black women would continue in many parts of the country to be disenfranchised. that fact of the 19th amendment alone means it fits awkwardly with events that feature light shows and period costumes and marching bands. so i have enjoyed some of those, i con 23es. in 1920 members of congress who promulgated the 19th amendment and ratified it and suffragettes themselves understood nothing in the terms prohibited states from using taxes and literacy tests and clauses to keep black women from registering to vote. nothing in the new amendment promised to curve what everybody knew was rampant i tim dags and violence that threatened black women now who came out to polling places.
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voting rights and voter suppression went hand in hand in 1920. now unfortunately, i'm ace historia an historian and my job does not allow me to plan festivities. my work requires to cut through the half truths and myths and equip us with the critical tools i think we need to use the past to think about the future of our democracy. 25 years ago historian michelle rolf tweet looked back on a celebration that marked 500 years since 1492, the wear in which christopher columbus was once upon a team, at least, columbus was said to to have discovered americas. and cleo warned historians away from these occasions, lest we sanitize partial truths and even myths the occasions demanded of the the difficult history of european contact and conquest
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with the indigenous people of the americas, including that of columbus, was muted and omitted all together in efforts to cast the anniversary in 1992 as a celebration. just framings may have filled the coffers of tourist venues and souvenir sellers but they did too little to promote little understanding of how colonialism devastated the people and lands of the hemisphere. so when i'm asked why i mostly stay home from the celebrations, i note the centennial of the 19th amendment marks a milestone in the american story of voting rights. i add remembering that era of voter suppression may indeed help us see more clearly how ballots are being withheld from americans in our own time. it may even encourage us to recommit to the ongoing work of ensuring the voting rights of all americans and i'm eager to attribute the story of black americans collective understanding of the 19th amendment but as a nation, we're not quite ready yet for that
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grand celebration. the voting rights for all still remains on the horizon. what happened in august 1920 when the 19th amendment became part of the u.s. constitution? i will focus on two myths that i think pervade interpretations of that scene. the first is when the amendment became law, all american women won the vote. you probably have even heard it said in 1920 women were now guaranteed the right to vote. that's one myth. the second is that on the contrary, and it is a myth that almost runs contrary to the first, there's the myth no black american women gained the vote in 1920, that racism kept black american women from the polls. i think what we'll do today is sort of explore those and look at the ways in which history sheds inevitably a much more nuanced light on those two myths. so in his anniversary year, i
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want to start by looking at august of 1920, when the u.s. secretary of state certified that the 19th amendment to the constitution had indeed been ratified by the required 36 states. what does the amendment say? the right of citizens of the united states to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the united states or by any state on account of sex. what precisely did that mean for american women? now laws that reserved the ballot for men violated the constitution. no longer could sex be a barrier to voter eligibility. and still the 19th amendment did not promise any american woman the vote. laws, state laws, still kept women from the polls based upon age, citizenship, residency, mental competence. american women who married
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non-u.s. citizens in 1920 still faced the naturalization and now the loss of their voting rights. the women who showed up to register in the fall of 1920 confronted many hurdles even if sex was not one of them. of course, there was one additional barrier to women's vote that persisted even after a federal amendment and that was racism. it was true the 15th amendment in 1870, 50 years before, had expressly forbid states from denying the vote because of race. but by 1920, lawmakers in the south and in some parts of the west, have set in place in hurdles that silent in the face of race had poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses kept black men from casting their ballots in the 1890s, unchecked intimidation and threat of lynching sealed the deal.
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local voting officials had effectively constructed a color line without ever expressly invoking rights. did america women the vote in 1920? we have to say not all women. african-american in too many states became merely, if you will, the equals to their husbands and their fathers. state laws disenfranchise them and around spirits of the 19th and 15th amendment, registration numbers reflected these laws and in the fall of 1920 black women presented themselves to officials but many found the books were closed. what was going on? one example from kent county, delaware. reports were that black women turned out in unusually large numbers in the judgment of the journalists but officials refused them because they failed to comply with the constitutional tasks. what was going on in delaware
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and many places? black women were being presented with text of the u.s. constitution being asked not only -- required not only to read that portion of the constitution but then to interpret that portion of the constitution. when i teach this to my students, i challenged them to on their feet and under the scrutiny of me standing in for the reluctant official to explain, for example, the electoral college. it isn't easy to do and many black women do not succeed in overcoming these kinds of hurdles in 1920. and still black women were voting. the first waves of black women and voters were unleashed in individual states. in california starting in 1911,
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illinois 1913, new york 1917, black women were already experienced voters by 1920. be even more managed to register and cast ballots in the fall of that year in the wake of the 19th amendment. how did they do that? one example from st. louis, missouri, where black women came together under the auspices of the phyllis wheatley branch of the ywca, named for the 18th century poet. there they ran a suffrage school and taught one another how to pay poll taxes, how to pass literacy tests, how to grapple with begrudging officials. they even managed to attract men to the suffrage school who thought perhaps 19s 20 represented a moment in which they might reclaim the voting rights they lost decades before. black women turned out in st.
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louis and the papers reported nearly every woman in the city registered that season. black women came to represent somewhere between 10% and 20% of new voters. and the stakes were high in st. louis. a city where local officials were using referenda to impose housing segregation for the first time by law in the city of st. louis. black women and turning out not only to realize their own personal ambitions, not only to further women's interests, but to contribute to the struggle against jim crow, which now had a decided consequence at the ballot box in a city like st. louis. the other example i will offer this afternoon comes from daytona, florida.
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and there suffragette and club leader mary claude ba thune ran an effective voter registry effort in 1919 and 1920 throughout the state of florida to get black women registered when the 19th amendment took effect. now, bathune, who ran a school in daytona for african-american girls, learned the wave of violence and intimidation that had overtaken the state of florida by fall of 2020 was going to visit her very close to home. the ku klux klan announced it would gather on election eve in 1920 in daytona. indeed, they appeared on horseback, in full regalia, burned a cross and marched to the grounds of bethune's girl
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school, today's bethune cookland university in an effort to intimidate bethune, her faculty and african-american women in daytona who had been part of the voter drive there. the next day black women did turn out and we learned something about the except of their organization and tactics because they turned out together in large numbers at the polls. this is understood to be a tactic that will, if not repel, discourage of sort of violence that klan members had threatened the night before and her patriots have a kind of success in the fall of 1920 but the violence in florida persists. it persists to such a degree that the klan again will visit mrs. bethune's school on
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election eve in 1922 and by that fall, black americans in florida will regretfully concede that unchecked violence in intimidation, unchecked by the 15th and 19th amendments, have kept them importantly away from the polls. what are black women to do in the fall of 1920 as they look out across the nation and take in the incompleteness of the work of the 19th amendment, the patchwork that is voting right for black women after a federal amendment? let's go to 19120, halle brown was the president of the national association of colored women, the largest political organization to represent black
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women in that year, more than 300,000 members across the country, halle quint brown had been an educator, elocutionist, club leader who had led the nacw suffrage department in the years on the road to the 19th amendment. in the fall of 1920, halle quinn brown is now president and charged with leading black women through a new political challenge. what comes after an amendment to the constitution, the nacw resolves that what is demanded and what is required now is federal legislation that would give teeth to the terms of both the 15th and 19th amendment that would combat and undo the state laws that were continuing to keep black women from the polls. this is the objective that halle
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quinn brown and the women of the nacw set out for themselves. now they have to chart a way forward. halle quinn brown is, i think it's fair to say, an appreciator of the capacity of the leaders within organizations like the national association -- the american national women's suffrage association, the national women's party, who had led the campaign for ratification of the 19th amendment, and quinn brown goes so far as to call on alice paul. she wants to be a part of the celebrations that alice paul is planning that will mark the ratification of the 19th amendment. she wants black women to be there. as importantly, she wants to make a proposal to alice paul, one that would lead to a linkage
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between black and white women's organizations that would work towards the federal legislation that hallie quinn brown and women of the nacw are after. hallie quinn brown and the delegation of black women will call on alice paul in the winter of 1921 during what turns out to be the last meeting of the national women's party, and she will ask paul for just that, a political alliance that will continue the struggle for women's votes, that will work towards women's universal volts, through the winning of federal legislation. what we know, of course, is that alice paul will decline. she will fold up the business of the national women's party and importantly move on by 1923 to call for an equal rights
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amendment to the constitution cause that is still alive and subject of much struggle and activism even in our own time. but this turn of events leaves african-american women to in essence build a new movement for women's voting rights. one, that they will partner with african-american men. it is a movement that will continue to, on the one hand, work the ground game of women's politics, perhaps best exemplified by the work of african-american women in the city of chicago, who will not only become important republican party operatives but will use their power at the ballots to see to it that the first time since 1901, in 1928 an
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african-american candidate will be elected to congress and head to washington. black women learn how to use the voting power that they have to change the outcome, particularly on the local and state level. they will be part of the legal campaign waged importantly by the naacp, that campaign that will bring an end to poll taxes, whites-only primaries, grandfather clauses. this effort both lobbying and litigation on the part of the naacp will be a critical part of this story. and these are the women -- these are the seeds of women's work that continues into the modern civil rights era. the courageous, profoundly dangerous work we associate with women like fanny wu hamer, diane nash and ella baker.
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the work at the grassroots, the extraordinarily arduous work that requires not only the ascent but assembly and risk taking of thousands of black americans across the american south. that is that campaign that will force the hand ultimately of congress and of president lyndon johnson and will give us a voting rights act in 1965. it is that moment that is the culmination of the work that you women like hallie quinn brown and those associated with the national association of colored women had long done. and still american women do not have the unqualified write to vote, even in 2020. the voter suppression tactic that kept women from the polls in 1920 have changed, and yet we recognize the way in which voter
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i.d. laws shuttered polling places, exact match requirements, the purging of voter rolls continued to dedrive american women of the vote, including women of color. the policies of voting officials which do not caretake the right to vote, are still with us as we watch officials fumble and miss the mark in ensuring that we, all of us, will get to the polls in november 1920. and still i think it's important to say much has changed. the great deal about the political landscape for african-american women in 2020 was for some americans unimaginable and for many americans unspeakable 100 years ago. we can point to the ways in
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which african-american women today organize, deliberate and vote as a bloc still changing the outcomes in state and local but even in contests of national consequence, a point to 2017, and alabama's special senate election where african-american women not only turned out disproportionately, they ensure that the democratic candidate, doug jones, goes to the u.s. senate. they flip that seat from red to blue. we can look ahead to the ballots that many of us will cast in november and discover that somewhere between 120 and 130 black women are running for seats in congress this season. this is a number that dwarves the record, which had been set
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in 2016. that number had been 48. black women coming to washington as a political force no longer as merely firsts. and none of us have escaped the fact of senator kamala harris' nomination to the democratic ticket, perhaps like me, you tuned in for her acceptance speech. it was an historic moment certainly. but senator harris told us something about the history that had brought us there. she spoke directly about her own mother and the influence of her mother's education, guidance and role, role model. her mother as one of the women on whose shoulders she was standing in the summer of 2020. and then senator harris
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named-checked six women, six women who were very much woven into the story that i have shared with you this afternoon. there was mary church tarell, the educator, education activist, the first president of the national council of -- excuse me, national association of colored women, and suffragette par excellent in the earl i 20th century, someone very much part of this story of how black women get to the vote. ida b. wells, the journalists social scientist, anti-suffragette activists and suffragette was also name-checked by kamala harris. there was maggie cog bethune of florida, who i'm introduced. diane nash was on senator harris' list.
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the architect of the selma campaign and woman who worked untiringly and courageously through the philosophy of nonviolence to strategically win for black americans many of the civil rights victories that we associate with that era, including that of the voting rights act. fanny wu hamer if mississippi, whose grassroots organizing and unparalleled courage in the state of mississippi, brought her before news cameras, bonn still and moving, including in 1964 during that year's democratic national convention, when hamer decried that convention and those who would see a mississippi delegation that failed to get there by the ascent of black voters in the state. fanny wu hamer looking to upturn the social order, the racial order, the political order in
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mississippi and across the country and doing it before national news cameras. and last senator harris invoked constance baker motley. motley not only a law graduate, that's something she certainly shared with senator harris, but member of the naacp's legal team doing that essential litigation work to challenge jim crow in the realm of political rights. constance baker motley, who goes on to run for office, hold office in the city of new york and new york state legislature and then, of course, will be appointed to the federal bench, the first black woman to sit there, appointed by president lyndon johnson. these are the women who today still grapple with the legacies and fact of voter suppression in our own time surely but they do
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so with a new sort of access, a new sort of influence and do so as a force in american politics. with that i will end and say thank you again so much to all of our hosts for convening us yet again in this wonderful series of conversations. and i think i'm going to invite jane campbell, if i'm not mistaken. jane is going to join me for some conversation and i think for some question and answer. thanks, jane, for doing this with me. >> thank you so much, martha, for that informative presentation. it really is so much to think about and so much to understand. i have a couple of questions myself, and then we're starting to get questions from our audience. i would remind the audience you can put your questions in the
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q&a box and i will try to make sure we get as many asked as possible while we have dr. jones with us. so you describe so ably the continuing struggle of black women to have the right to vote, to exercise the right to vote. can you share -- we think now, when people talk about the black vote, invariably, they talk about the fact that black women are more reliable voters in many instances than black men. how has -- how has the voter suppression from jim crow forward treated women differently than men? >> so that's a great question.
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one of the things we know out of the lessons of 1920 is part of what voter suppression ames to do is in a sense treat women just as it treats men. and so, for example, in 1920 there will be those southern states, southern legislatures, that quickly have to amend their poll tax provisions, which had been written as an imposition on men as a requirement of men, now have to be written to now also apply to women. so there's a way in which voter suppression historically has looked to in a sense overright differences of gender. but there's no question from my research that african-american women face a distinct set of
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risks when it comes to political activist, when it comes to work in the political sphere, when it comes to coming out to the polls. there's a denigration of the women of the national association of colored women that are all too familiar with, it's part of what binds them together. that is to say, the kind of gendered racism that pozettes black women to be unsuited to be ladies, unsuited to be mothers and more is a special denigration directed at black women. at the same time black women very much come to politics because part of the condition that suppress them politically include the scourge of sexual
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violence. so among black suffragettes is ab important thread that points to the vulnerabilities of black women and also the necessity of any movement for women's votes are women's rights. that movement must take up the special burdens of sexual violence. and so today i think we can understand the ways in which there are echoes still on the one hand of voter suppression that is neutral on its face when it comes to gender and still imposes its own special burdens on black women, including the scourge of violence and sexual violence. >> it's a lot to think about. when you think of some of the ways in which the violence
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against men wanting to vote came out as lynching, and the violence came out as sexual violence, and how those threads, as you have looked at this over time and your most current book is about the 19th amendment and the consequences but you had previously written birthright citizens all wound up together. so this whole question of the role of african-americans in the american democracy is not something that you have a limitation around what years. so would you say that things have progressed or things have -- where do you see is the arc of history bending towards justice, or is it still wiggling
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back and forth? >> after writing "vanguard," it became clear to me that it wasn't possible to tell the story of american voting rights as someone that arc that bends towards justice, especially as we sit here in 2020, seven years out from the u.s. supreme court decision in shelby county versus holder, which gutted the most powerful provisions of that voting rights act, that african-americans had so profoundly sacrificed to win. that we live in a democracy, constitutional democracy, that does not guarantee to any citizen the right to vote, and i
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think we can point to any generation, every generation has faced the necessity to define and redefine voting rights own and there have always been communities that have been faced with the struggle, the burden on the citizen to breathe meeting, give teeth and otherwise fully honor the spirit of democratizing moments like the 15th and 19th amendments and their ratifications. so if i had to sort of talk about the question of voting rights across the expanse of our history and try to anticipate to use that to anticipate what's ahead, at a minimum, right, what's ahead is an ongoing
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struggle over voting rights. it's taking one particular and pointed form in 2020. but whatever the outcome of the electoral contest in 2020, i don't think the struggle over voting rights will be extinguished. struggling over voting rights is very much i think the american way. >> okay. well, we've got several questions from the audience and two people have actually asked you to kind of put dorothy height into the narrative. she's one who we saw doing an awful lot of work with the march on washington, and one of the few women who got some recognition for her leadership. how does she fit in to your narrative? >> well, thank you so much for
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introducing dorothy height in this, because she does exemplify, i think, a strand, a thread of this story which is to say that importantly for black women, especially coming out of the jim crow era, politics is never reducible to voting or holding office. and this is something dorothy height not only knows well, practices well. i think in the mission of a mary mcleod bethune, understanding relationships of politics, relationship of patronage, relationships in washington that grow out of civil rights organizations, is and has always been and continues to be for black americans an essential facet of how black women do
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politics and make politics. for those of you who may not know dorothy height, i think that's precisely why she's in some ways to be akin to a diane nash. she's an architect. she's a strategist. she's a woman with extraordinary powers of persuasion. like mary church terrell, she knows how to work remarkably effectively with men who had no intention i think often imz too times of linking arms with her, linking arms with the national council of negro women. dorothy height knew how to broker those kinds of relationships and most importantly she knew how to ensure african-american women would be able to know how to use all of their talents, all of
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their capacities, all of their gifts, all of their power in the interest of the collective. i think she was someone who never lost sight of that over a very long and distinguished career. so thank you sko much fo much f chance to introduce her to this conversation. >> taking that sort of strain of people who we don't know or didn't know, this symposium has been very intentional of trying to bring the story of women's voices in the period of women's suffrage and inactivity but one woman writes she's a 60-year-old white woman who grew up in the new york city public schools and she the good this beautiful pin from the archives that said vote for women 1920 and she gave it
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to her 22-year-old daughter and she said, mom, not all women got the right to vote. she said, why didn't i know that? what's wrong with our schools that that story is not told, and maybe more importantly, her daughter knew it. her 23-year-old daughter knew it. are we bringing that story in for the next generation, or was it just an accident she had an extremely smart 23-year-old daughter? >> well, i won't assume on who her daughter's teachers were, but somewhere in there that work is being done. but there's around important backstory that i will just share briefly, that for -- for early generations of historians writing about women's suffrage, there was a six-volume collection that was begun in the
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1880s and finished in the 1920s called "the history of women's suffrage." some of its authors of the early volumes includeds elizabeth cady stanton and susan anthony. and these volumes are almost 6,000 pages. they take up a lot of room on the shelf. and i think for a long time we came to those volumes, too much thinking they might be even comprehensive. and it took some critical reading of those volumes by women historians for us to understand, and i will mention dr. roslyn tovork penn, who in the 1970s publishes a paper that reads those critically from the opinion of african-americans and what we learn while those volumes are impressive and important, left out a great deal of the history of women's
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suffrage despite the title, and especially ee lighted the roles that black american women played in the long struggle for the vote. so we inherited some sorts that had to be taken on, and then we do the work of producing new histories that begin to, as you suggest, tell a much more complex and perhaps critical version of this story. and i think we are still struggling with that. some of you may have encountered some of the dust-ups surrounding the monument that are going up in this centennial year. and who are the figures that should be included? who should be honored and valorized in connection with the suffrage centennial has not been a simple or easy question for us. but i will say that for me, i
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think we're at the -- we're at the beginning of a new era in understanding this. in the centennial year and conferences like this have made it us to tell these histories, yes, in classrooms, i spend a lot of time with k through 12 educators so that the history that i write makes it into those classrooms. i'm teaching the history of women and the vote with my students this semester at johns hopkins, who are writing their own biographies of lesser known black women suffragists and making them part of the record. so the work goes on. but i think the toughest part is sort of where i began, that a celebration year oftentimes also is a year in which we would love to rest on myths that oversimplify the past. and i like the 1920 to 2020
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timeline, because it opens up the space to say, so what happened in those 100 years after the 19th amendment was ratified. it opens up the space for us to tell many lesser well-known stories, including the ones i shared today. >> well, and i think one of the things we've approached this, is that a celebration year ought to be also an evaluation year, a re-evaluation, and that the nature of history is that, yes, it happened in the past, but what gets told is often based on who is telling it. and we intentionally are bringing more diverse voices into telling the story, and as that happens, you know, your grandmother is part of the story and not just my grandmother. my grandmother got into suffrage
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because she was all about prohibition. she was a women's christian union person and that was a whole different movie. but she also grew up on a station at the end of grand railroad and she had a sense of racial justice. and i had the privilege to know her because she lived to be 95, so, you know, there are stories that are so robust. but a couple of other quick questions and we're going to run out of time if we don't speak -- get our folks to write. one of the questions is there is some written about women who were white women who were opposed to women having the right to vote because they felt that somehow not having the right to vote, women could be, you know, in the home and on the pedestal, blah, blah, blah.
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but there wasn't clearly -- the black women, that message didn't ring in black women's minds. was there any -- was there any back and forth? were there a group of black women who were opposed to suffrage, and how did they play? >> even within the national association of colored women, there were differences about -- i think less about the ultimate merits of women's votes, but there were a lot of disagreements about how to get there. and if someone like mary church terrell is comfortable, and even eager for black women to keep one foot even in the most radical of suffrage politics on the road to the 19th amendment, terrell will be part of the 1913 parade in washington, she will ticket -- i think the only black
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woman, along with her daughter phyllis, the only black women who participate in that action led by alice paul. terrell is that committed and concurs with those tactics, while somebody like margaret marie washington is another leader, also from alabama, who really cautions black women against becoming to embroiled in politics. i think washington thinks it's risky personally and it's risky politically. and so while she is prepared to support voter education efforts among black women so that they will be prepared if and when the 19th amendment is ratified, she's not prepared to recommend
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that women of the nacw turn out and participate in radical suffrage politics. that's an important difference among black women. >> to take another turn, there were communities that were majority black communities. is there any evidence that those communities that were majority black communities, that there was stronger voter participation? were black women able to vote in local elections in those communities before they were able to vote in the federal election? is there any information about that kind of history? >> thank you for the question. i'm going to refer you to the wonderful work of historian gidlow at wayne state university, who is completing a book project that is asking --
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trying to answer that very question. one of the things that -- the challenges that i faced in my research, for example, looking -- trying to look at localities in the state of north carolina, when i got to the state archives thinking i would be able to figure out who voted, when, for whom, how many black women voted, it turned out that those materials hadn't been preserved. and so while the state archives still include the records of the aggregate votes, when we want to drill in oftentimes to what is happening on the local level, we're not able to. some places we're aided by newspaper reports, nearly all of which are partisan, frankly, and so have to be read carefully. but there's no question that even in a large city like chicago, african-american women
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are organized, deliberate and using their power at the polls even before 1920 to do precisely, i think what the questioner is suggesting, to turn the tide when it comes to electing aldermen or representatives to a state legislature, even before they begin to influence who is coming to congress. and so i look forward to professor gidlow's work that i think will really shed even more light on that question. >> see, now we had her on our series and we didn't have this question for her. so we'll have to do round two. in your understanding, if you look at, you know, that sort of question, 1920 to 2020, are some states better or worse at voter
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suppression, and have -- you know, you spoke about shelby versus holder and what has been the impact. i know that one of the discussions was when that was coming up is that that was focused on a certain number of states which had historical difficult behavior with regard to voter suppression. but we've now gotten to the point where some new states are getting engaged with that. how has that changed over time? >> so today i think we would say that any sense that voter suppression is a uniquely or distinctly southern problem, that is no longer the case. we look out across the national
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landscape and when we analyze voter suppression, we can see it at work, yes, in the american south, but we can also find it, if you will, alive and well and working in the midwest. and in the context of the coronavirus challenges, i don't think there's a state in the u.s. that isn't going to be touched or too few states in the u.s. that are not going to be touched by the resulting voter suppression, as very late in the game, how we vote, where we vote, when we vote, is shifting right under our feet. and so voter suppression today looks to me very much like a national question. and of course we have to understand that the suppression of votes, for example, in the state of georgia has
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consequences for all of us, especially in a year in which we are electing a new chief executive. that suppression is not only a regret, a lament, a tragedy for voters in georgia, but all of us will live with the consequences of those voters in georgia who might be kept from the polls. i use georgia as an example, but we could point to many other places. >> well, here's the final question. you made a mention of the fact that alice paul sort of turned from ensuring voter participation by women to the equal rights amendment, which is still pending today. do you think that that conversation and the discussion over the equal rights
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amendment -- how will that deal with the full participation of black women in our democracy? >> so that's a great question and i'm a historian more, though, than a pundit or a prognosticator. but i think the lesson out of 1920 for the equal rights amendment is that we have to be aware, on guard, vigilant, about the possibility that the women's issues -- that women's issues are not so narrowly defined in the wake of an equal rights amendment, that the
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discrimination, the burdens and more experienced by women of color in this country get bracketed out of that equation. the story of the road to the 19th amendment is one about the ways in which women's issues were so narrowly defined that the problem, the scourge of jim crow, for example, was not on suffrage association agendas, even as it affected women, and it was permitted to persist even as the amendment purported to extend equal voting rights to african-american women. so our work in the wake of an equal rights amendment going forward, if that's where we're headed, i think will be to learn from that lesson, and in my view be more expansive, diverse and inclusive in our definition of what a woman's question is.
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>> well, that certainly wraps it up. dr. jones, thank you for spending this hour with us. you're watching american history tv. every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past. c-span3, created by america's cable television companies as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider. week nights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. and tonight we look at president john f. kennedy's assassination. a week after his death, president linden johnson appointed supreme court justice earl warren to investigate. we go to conference hill. watch, beginning at 8:00 p.m.
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eastern. enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3. up next, carl sferrazza anthony, author of "first lady, florence harding" discusses the life of the woman married to president warren harding and disspells some of the myths during her time at the white house. the historical association hosted the event and provided the video. >> today we are welcoming the author of a dozen books on presidential families, including four full length first lady dyi biographies and an overview of all the families who made their home in the white house. he made a history "america's first families". he served as a consultant to the smithsonian interpretation of the exhibit and was a library's historian until


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