Culture

Black Suffragists Are Recognized On The 100th Year Anniversary of Women's Suffrage

Black Suffragists Are Recognized On The 100th Year Anniversary of Women's Suffrage

Legacy, legacy, legacy! 

It's been a century since suffragists braved police batons and a global flu pandemic to request equal voting rights for all — unfortunately, not much has changed. Just as women demanded President Woodrow Wilson answer the question, "What will you do for woman's suffrage," Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and white Americans are in the streets and across media insisting that all Black Lives Matter. 

The 19th Amendment, the Constitutional change ratified 100 years ago this week, granted women the right to vote. It declared, "The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex." However, it was only accessible to white women, even though Black women worked just as hard to secure the civil liberties for all. Restrictions on voting weren't lifted until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, safeguarding our civic duty, which is still at risk of voter suppression. 

One of the oft-forgotten leaders of the suffragist and civil rights movement, Ida B. Wells Barnett, has been commemorated with a massive mosaic in Union Station in Washington, DC, according to CNN. 

The 1,000 square foot mural, entitled "Our Story: Portraits of Change," was designed by artist Helen Marshall of the People's Picture and features thousands of photos featuring women who fought for the right to vote according to the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission who commissioned the project.

"What we are able to do with this art installation is that we can show the depths of this movement," Anna Laymon, WSCC Executive Director, told CNN. "It wasn't just one woman who fought for the right to vote. It was thousands."

The executive producer of the commemorative artwork, Christina Korp of Purpose Entertainment, said in a press release that she was proud to highlight Ida B. Wells-Barnett as the main subject of the "Our Story" photo mosaic.

"Her story as a suffragist, civil rights activist and investigative journalist is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago," she continued. "We hope this project will inspire the public to learn more about her and countless others featured within the digital interactive mosaic online."

The mural honors the women leading the movement. It marks the "Prison Special," a train tour organized by suffragists who had been jailed for picketing the White House in support of the federal women's suffrage amendment. The National Woman's Party chartered a train, the "Democracy Limited," in February 1919 to speak to cities across the U.S. about their experience as political prisoners.

Marshall, who created the "Face of Suffrage" floor mural in 2018 to commemorate the centennial of women's vote, said in the press release that she was grateful to work on the project of such a prominent suffragist at such a public location.

"Communication between women's movements happened at mostly the same time in the U.S, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia," she said. "I see this artwork as a truly international commemoration, and I hope that many will enjoy seeing it in person and exploring it in its full interactive glory online in the safety of their homes."

From August 24 to August 28, visitors at Union Station will experience the art exhibit by walking over and exploring the images. 

"In ancient cultures, floor mosaics were in public places and revered and could be studied close up," Marshall told CNN. "That's what we want people to really explore it and see all the pictures and even touch them."

For those who choose to experience the art from the safety of their homes, the artwork will be available online, the public can zoom into the photos and read stories of the various women.

Earlier this week The New York Times also honored the suffragist movement, speaking with descendants of these pioneering activists as they contemplated the movement, it's legacy and what their ancestors would have thought about the state of today's society:

Michelle Duster, Great-Granddaughter of Ida B. Wells-Barnett

The great-granddaughter of one of the most revolutionary and fearless leaders of our time lives in Chicago. She teaches writing at Columbia College Chicago and tutors at Wilbur Wright College. Duster takes pride in her ancestor's work and published a book taking stock of her legacy fighting for liberation, "Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells." 

Ida B. Wells didn't mince words when it came to the importance of allowing everyone their right to vote. In her 1900 speech, Lynch Law In America, she said, "The alleged menace of universal suffrage having been avoided by the absolute suppression of the negro vote, the spirit of mob murder should have been satisfied, and the butchery of negroes should have ceased."

As she continues informing the public of Black women's role in suffrage, she appreciates the people acknowledging Wells-Barnett. 

"They're giving her credit for paving the way, expressing inspiration for how outspoken she was, and willingly and knowingly putting her life in danger," she said. "She was encouraging Black people to exercise the power that they did have. That's why they wanted to kill her."

Kenneth B. Morris Jr., Great-Great-Great Grandson, Frederick Douglass

Many know Frederick Douglas as an abolitionist, which he was. Still, he was also one of the 32 men who attended the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and signed the Declaration of Sentiments, demanding the right to vote. At the 1888 International Council of Women in Washington, he used his male privilege and platform at the time to recognize the intersectionality of the movements.

"When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated emancipation, it was for my people," Douglass told the crowd. "But when I stood up for the rights of woman, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act."

Morris took his ancestors' words to heart, following in his footsteps to abolish modern-day slavery and human trafficking. In 2007 he co-founded The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, which works across dozens of counties across California, as well as cities in Utah and Texas, seeking to "unfit communities to allow slavery to exist and thrive. The foundation of all our work is around education around [identifying victims of human trafficking]." 

Joyce Stokes Jones, Great-Great & Michele Jones Galvin, Great-Great-Grandniece of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman, the Black Moses, is a fixture in the American historical narrative, but it wasn't always so. When her great-great-grandniece, Michele Jones Galvin, attempted to create a collage of her famous relative as a child, she could hardly find anything. For 30 years, she researched Tubman's history, which resulted in a weekly column in 1968 on Black Heritage for The Syracuse Herald-Journal, a Black History program on local television, and a documentary on her life and family in 1985.

In 2013, 100 years after her aunt died, she published a book with her daughter, "Beyond the Underground: Aunt Harriet, Moses of Her People." Jones-Galvin, who is a member of half-dozen charities and advocacy groups such as the League of Women Voters, said. She felt her aunt would be disappointed at race relations today, but she believed after the death of George Floyd, the protests would make her proud. 

"The people standing up for Black Lives Matter were intergenerational, interracial, a conglomeration of all the best America has to offer," Jones-Galvin said.

"We know Aunt Harriet to be as John Brown described her: 'The best and the bravest person on the continent,'" Jones Galvin said. "Her rescue missions, military prowess, and support of women's suffrage speak for themselves." 

Rohulamin and Carmen Quander, Cousins, Nellie Quander

The Quander's been a prominent Black family in Washington since the late 17th-century. Their legacy includes the first Black people in education, medicine, commerce, and the military to hold leadership titles, reported by Courtland Milloy in 1978. Nellie Quander, a public school teacher in Washington and activist, earned her degree at Howard University, where she founded Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority Incorporated in 1913.

Quander attempted to include Alpha Kappa Alpha in the Woman Suffrage Procession, held in Washington on March 3, 1913, and spearheaded by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, but was met with racists rebuffs to their entry. Quander wrote to Paul that rebuked their exclusion, and they joined the march anyway. 

"Nellie and her group refused to take a place in the back of the D.C. line," Rohulamin Quander told the New York Times. "They forcibly integrated themselves into the group of white women from D.C."

Rohulamin, a lawyer in Washington, has fought to add his cousin's legacy of fighting in women's rights history. She worked as a national leader of the Y.W.C.A empowering women for 50 years until she passed in 1961. He wrote a book in 2008, "Nellie Quander: An Alpha Kappa Alpha Pearl," he told The New York Times she would appreciate his documenting their families story.

"Her family knew Frederick Douglass. Her father was a decorated Civil War veteran. She was an activist until the very end," he said. "She would be very proud, I think, of the fact that since the 1960s, I have been bringing forth the history of the Quander family."

Photo Credit: CNN/New York Times