Women’s Equality Day

Last Friday was Women’s Equality Day, a holiday marking the passage of the 19th Amendment that granted women in the United States the right to vote. The holiday being called “Women’s Equality Day” is rather misleading, however. The 19th Amendment made white women equal at the ballot box, but Black women were still discriminated against, marginalized during the first feminism wave, and excluded from the ballot box until years later.

True equality is achieved regardless of race, sex, or any other identity, making this holiday somewhat of a misnomer. Every August, it’s important we recognize firstly how Black women were largely excluded from the voting rights conversation and secondarily that the 19th Amendment was still an important historical milestone.

First wave feminism lasted from around 1848 until 1920 when the 19th Amendment was passed, making it the era of feminism known to fight for women’s suffrage. Some historical figures regarded as suffragist heroes were indeed racist, and although that is not surprising for the time period, those details are often overlooked in a glossy re-telling of history.

Initially allied in pursuit of universal suffrage under the American Equal Rights Association, a tumultuous relationship eventually came to exist between Black male and white female activists. The group started to splinter around the late 1860s as talks of the 15th Amendment arose, leading famous activists in the group such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and others, to disagree about how to move forth.

Some activists supported the 15th Amendment, which proposed to, and eventually did (though a historical formality), give Black men the right to vote. Others like Anthony made racist arguments against it, claiming that white women were more educated and thus more qualified to get the right to vote first. Black women played an important role in the fight for voting rights and tried to emphasize their unique position, but in an argument about whether Black men or white women should vote first, Black women were ignored.

It’s undeniable that 1920 was far different than today. The Negro National Baseball League was newly founded, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still years down the road. However, both can be simultaneously true; the fight for the 19th Amendment paved the way for women to gain more rights and the movement often excluded the idea of Black women obtaining voting rights. “Women’s Equality Day” is a rather inaccurate name to commemorate the passage of the 19thAmendment, as first wave feminist advocates were no champions of equality between Black and white women.

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