A standard proclamation reading at the Maplewood Township Committee meeting took on deeper meaning and a difficult topic on March 5 as TC member Nancy Adams addressed the “erasure” of Black women from the women’s suffrage movement.
Adams was joined in reading the Women’s History Month proclamation by other women leaders of South Orange and Maplewood, including South Orange Trustees Karen Hilton and Deborah Davis Ford, former Maplewood Mayor Ellen Davenport, former Maplewood Vice Mayors Kathy Leventhal and Celia King, former TC member India Larrier, former South Orange Trustee Janine Bauer, current South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education member Shannon Cuttle and others. Women leaders of SOMA were invited to participate, along with non binary transgender leaders.
In addressing the history of Black women in American the suffragist movement, Adams said she excerpted these remarks from the Women’s History Museum website and author Ama Ansah:
“I wanted to touch on an issue that has been brought up locally and that is important to acknowledge. As we approach the 100th anniversary in 2020 of women gaining the right to vote, images from the 1913 Suffrage March on Washington, DC. have begun to make turn up on social media. Then and now, African American women have been erased from the story of women’s suffrage in America. The proclamation we’re about to read does not address this issue, although it will in the future, so I wanted to bring attention to it first.
“Since the mid 1800s, African American women fought for the right to vote while facing discrimination from white suffragists who did not want their movement associated with women of color. Carrying the “double burden” of blackness and womanhood, African American women approached the suffrage movement with different objectives than their white counterparts. Painfully aware of the restrictions on black male voting in the south and the social, political, and economic challenges facing their communities, black women saw their involvement as an opportunity for community uplift and personal recognition of citizenship. The question of whether getting the vote for women meant ALL women or exclusively white women dates to the beginning of the suffrage movement. Though many suffragists were part of the abolitionist movement to end slavery, they were not immune to racial prejudice.
“Nevertheless, black suffragists rallied. They encouraged African American women’s clubs across the country to participate in the 1913 march in DC, and they did.
“The opportunity for a greater political voice drew African American women to the suffrage movement. They supported the movement for its message of gender equality and potential benefits to their own communities while calling out harmful ideologies. African American suffragists fought for the vote while also fighting white supremacy. The National American Woman Suffrage Association’s fear of offending the southern suffragists needed in their main goal of getting the women’s right to vote, along with the leadership’s own prejudices, silenced black suffragists and prevented the organization from seriously considering or adopting the intersectional perspectives women of color brought to the movement. Nevertheless, black women were relentless in their attempts to play an important and meaningful role in the suffrage movement, not only because they believed in the cause but because they knew it was important that they were present and fighting for their rights both as women and African Americans.”
South Orange also presented the proclamation for Women’s History Month at its March 11 Board of Trustees meeting.