This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
“Because of them, we can.”
That’s the mantra of Karen Arrington Goodwill, the ambassador to Sierra Leone and founder of Miss Black USA.
“Abolitionists Lucretia Mott, Ida B. Wells, Maria Weston Chapman, Sojourner Truth and others carried an insurmountable weight while challenging sexism and Black people’s access to the ballot box,” said Goodwill, who is also an author and award-winning empowerment expert.
Goodwill noted that because of the hard work and advocacy by Black women of the suffrage movement, today’s African Americans prosper.
“For the first time in history, we’ve got a Black woman on the top of the Forbes richest women in entertainment list [Rihanna], and we’ve got sisters in positions of prestige and power at organizations like Xerox and Microsoft, the World Bank and the U.S. Congress,” she said. “Black women of the suffrage movement paved the way for us to rewrite the rules of power and opportunity.”
Nicole L. Arkadie, a professor who teaches macro and micro practice to master’s-level social work students, said everyone owes a debt of gratitude to the Black women of the suffrage movement.
And, while there have been strides made, the fight is far from over, Arkadie said.
“It’s important for Black women to take an active role in the political scene and to know the issues that affect and impact our community,” Arkadie said.
“Due to their race and gender, Black women were not allowed to vote before the 19th Amendment was passed and voting is important, and it’s a right that we fought for,” she said.
“We can, and we have overcome various race and economic disparities to reach success and fulfill our life goals. We’ve had to jump over more obstacles, overcome more challenges, work with having access to fewer resources and advantages,” Arkadie said.
Terrell Strayhorn, vice president for academic and student affairs and a professor of urban education at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tenn., marveled at how difficult it would have been for Black female suffragists to show up for a rally.
“Fired up for advancing women’s equal rights, only to be shunned by white women, shoved by white suffragists, or even asked to get to the back of the rallying line as was often the case,” Strayhorn said. “I think the way we connect younger generations to these historical women of color is by telling their story for ages to come. Say her name and celebrate her courage, her strength, and her resilience.
“Use ‘her-story,’ not just ‘his-story,’ to demonstrate to today’s youth powerful lessons about what it means for the person to be political and being mindful of when and where they enter a conversation, a social issue, or movement,” Strayhorn said.
Goodwill added that the suffrage movement paved the way for African Americans to rewrite the rules of power and opportunity.
“We still have obstacles to overcome, stereotypes to smash and trauma to release,” she said. “There’s no question about it. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it. And these women, she-roes, [they] proved it.”