We testified at legislative hearings, wrote letters to the editor, and attended many demonstrations. We called, emailed, and met with our legislators. We objected to a hastily passed appointment of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court. We have fought this battle numerous times in numerous states. We are tired. So how do we find the strength and energy to continue?
Frequently, by listening to the people at the margins, we can find a way forward. They have a perspective that those of us who are at the center rarely see. The campaign for women’s universal suffrage can inspire us.
This year we have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which prohibits the government from using sex as a criterion for voting. Yet African-American/Black women remained disenfranchised for nearly 50 years after white women won the right to vote. Why? In a desire to gain Southern white women’s support, the suffragist movement’s white leaders set African-American/Black women aside.
When the African-American/Black suffragist and civil rights leader Mary Church Terrell petitioned her white sisters for help, they responded that the disenfranchisement of black women was a race problem — not a gender problem — and beyond the movement’s writ.
But Black women stood up again. Terrell aided in the founding of two of the most important black political action groups, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She fought for women’s suffrage and for integration in public education.
They wanted to exercise their right to vote, as had their white sisters. Each time African-American/Black women have been tossed aside or denied their rights, they have found a way to fight back. How are they able to do so?
Resilience is the answer—resilience nurtured by the community of mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and other elders. Resilence, coupled with determination, is a powerful force. Community is a critical factor in creating and sustaining resilience. African-American/Black women build it by supporting each other and their families and neighbors. If they came to an obstacle in the fight for their rights, together, they would find a way around it. Stacey Abrams is a contemporary example.
Stacey Abrams denied her defeat in her gubernatorial race as a failure saying, “We didn’t fail. In the state of Georgia, we transformed our electorate.” She turned her political loss into a larger victory. Voter suppression has a very long history in our country, and Abrams was determined to fight it, so she founded Fair Fight to ensure every American has a voice in our election process. And vote they did!
We can learn much from those who are on the margins. They have a perspective that those in the center don’t share. They have survived challenges only met by the marginalized. So, we look to African-American/Black women’s leadership in their determination to make the world a better place for their children and grandchildren. Let us show our respect for all by listening to the marginalized. When they win, we all win!