Behind every century-old photo of white women in white sashes marching for the right to vote, were Black women — marching arm-in-arm for their voices to be heard. Black women like educator Mary Church Terrell, or journalist and researcher Ida B. Wells were there from the start. They actively challenged the racist ideals of the white women suffragists who forced them to the back of marches and sought to exclude them entirely.
On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we're honoring the untold stories and voices of the Black women and women of color suffragists who stood boldly against racism and sexism to win the right to vote.
While the 15th Amendment granted Black men the right to vote and the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, there remained significant barriers for women of color to exercise that right throughout the early and mid-20th century.
Black women had to deal with poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation for many decades following the ratification of the 19th amendment, while Chinese immigrants and their American-born families remained ineligible for citizenship until 1943, with the passage of the Magnuson Act.
And it wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans were admitted to full U.S. citizenship – thus indigenous women were not even counted in the original ratification of the amendment.
By and large, women of color had very limited opportunities to exercise their right to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
During the “first wave” of feminism, many suffragettes were willing to bargain the rights of people of color away in order to convince legislators to recognize the rights of white women. Many were even white supremacists themselves.
Because of this, seeds of mistrust were sown in many communities of color, and many people of color report generational suspicion of feminist organizations like Planned Parenthood due to these early betrayals.
We can’t undo the harms of the past, but we can acknowledge them. Acknowledging what happened is the first step towards restorative justice.
When we say we support racial equity and justice – it must mean something. We must be brave enough to admit that we, and those who have pioneered the way before us, have made mistakes.
And it’s up to all of us, living here in the present, to make amends and to do better.
We commit to doing better for the communities of color that we serve today.
We’re committed to it by providing racial equity trainings for all our staff in all levels of clinical services, management, and administration. We provide our staff of color opportunities to caucus with one another, and to provide feedback to leadership, and pointing out the areas in which we’re falling short.
We’re committed to racial justice and equity with our patients, too, by partnering and allying with individual and organizational leaders within local BIPOC communities, listening to how we can better serve them.
And we’re committed to it by listening to our supporters of color, hearing what they want and need from our organization, and striving to get there – doing the work so we can show up for them in ways that have meaning.
The fight for women’s rights has come a long way, and yet still has a long way to go if all of us are to be included, counted and on truly equitable ground.
Planned Parenthood encourages all women to register to vote and to make your voice heard at the ballot box.