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The African-American Suffragists History Forgot

Lynn Yaeger | Vogue   in  ·
February 8, 2016

“I feel that I have the right to have just as much as a man. There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights and colored women not theirs, the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before,” the abolitionist Sojourner Truth said in 1867.

I am thinking about Truth, and so many other African-American female freedom fighters, because of the imminent release of the film Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan. If that movie chronicles the struggle for the vote in Britain, it also brings to mind our own suffrage story. But though we may have vague notions of the American women who fought so heroically for the ballot on this side of the Atlantic, they are, in our minds, in our imaginations, in the photographs and first-person narratives that have come down to us, uniformly white people.

Who would blame you if you thought there were no African-American women who lent their hearts and minds, their intellects, their bodies to the suffrage cause! Rendered invisible in so many accounts, they were in fact doubly brave, fighting a dual oppression—marginalized, trivialized, humiliated, and dismissed for being both black and female.

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