Voting: Which Happened First

Voting: Which Happened First? 

In the midst of this voting season, I was reminded that yesterday, August 18, 2020, was the one hundred year anniversary of the 19th Amendment being ratified. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to legally vote. 

First off, I love exercising my right to vote. Ever since being able to vote, I have taken advantage of all three (and counting) opportunities to vote in elections, from local to state. For the first time, I will be able to participate in the Presidential Election. 

As a historian, and as a Black woman, I find it difficult to celebrate the 19th Amendment but I still appreciate it. In the midst of this woman-centered and woman-led movement, Black women were denied from participating in the suffrage movement. When the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, it was only for White women. Only White women were allowed to vote. 

After the signing of the 19th Amendment, it still denied Black women the right to vote. It wouldn’t be until 45 years later, about eleven presidential elections later with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that would allow Black men and women to safely vote without harassment or violence. 

The Voting Rights Acts of 1965 was (and still is) enforcing the 15th Amendment. 

The 15th Amendment was ratified 1870, February 3 but it was not fully enforced until 1965. That’s 95 years later! That’s about 24 presidencies!

The 15th Amendment of The U.S. Constitution stated that 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 race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

In short (and in theory), the 15th Amendment allowed citizens (no gender stated!), regardless of race or social status to be allowed and able to vote.  So, by law Black men and women (and White women) have had the right to legally vote since 1870. 

The Black voter turnout during this time period, especially under the Reconstruction Era, was high. These previously enslaved Black people were electing and getting elected into local, state, and federal positions.  

It was because of this high (Black) voter turnout, the presence of Black people in high, decision-making positions, and the removal of Union soldiers that caused the KluKluxKlan to rise and start terrorizing Black people and Black voters. 

The decision soon came down to: vote and get lynched or not vote and live.

There are so many layers to being a Black voter. Voter suppression has always been around for far too long and it’s time we finally get rid of it. 

I struggle with the celebration of the 19th Amendment because that did not grant people who look like me the opportunity to vote. Yes, the 19th Amendment says woman and I am a woman, but race was important. 

As I have studied and read Kimberlé Crenshaw (creator of the term and idea intersectionality), I have discovered that for Black people, we are often seen as Black first and our gender is seen second. Whereas, for our White counterparts, they have the chance to choose.

In the case of the women’s suffrage movement, these White women chose to be woman then to be White second. They were women who chose to be White and then chose to separate themselves from Black women.  I did not and still do not have the privilege to be a woman than be Black. 

My Blackness will always come first. And, it’s not a bad thing! I love being Black. 

I simply think it is something worth pausing and giving thought to…How come a group of people can decide how they want to be perceived but the other group cannot?

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