When voting rights weren’t for all women

On this landmark 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, historians Martha S. Jones and Daina Ramey Berry reflect on what the 19th Amendment means for Black women in America.

Women’s suffrage was rooted in the abolitionist movement, but when it came to securing the passage of federal legislation, white advocates were willing to abandon Black suffragists to get the support of Southern states. And while the 1920 law may have enfranchised all American women, Black women, particularly those living in the South, were left to fight racial discrimination when registering to vote and going to the polls. Those barriers included poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and arbitrary tests on literacy and constitutional recitations. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that such voter suppression efforts became illegal.

However, the fight for voting rights is far from over. Hurdles to registering to vote and casting a ballot still exist today, through things like voter ID laws, closures of polling locations, and gerrymandering. While seemingly innocuous to some, these restrictions disproportionately target minorities, the elderly, and the poor.

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