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Black Suffrage and the Struggle for Civil Rights

Striking a militant pose, this activist is part of a march led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to integrate the suburb of Cicero, Illinois, in September 1966.

For as long as women of African descent have been in the United States, they have resisted oppression. Enslaved in the Americas, they organized themselves and others to fight for freedom. Black women fought for inclusion in the women’s suffrage movement after the abolition of slavery.

Women gained the right to vote in 1920, but Jim Crow racial segregation and disenfranchisement — which was enforced by extreme violence — curtailed Black women’s suffrage. Although African-Americans were systematically denied the right to vote during the Jim Crow era, many resisted this oppression by both overt and subversive means.

African-American woman being carried to police patrol wagon during a Civil Rights demonstration in Brooklyn, NY, in 1964.

Black women’s militant activism and leadership during this oppression helped create the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. African-Americans such as Martin Luther King Jr . and Malcolm X have become icons of the 1950’s and 1960’s, but the organizational skills and grassroots activism of women such as Ella Baker , Septima Clark , Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer propelled the movement forward to many successes and inspired a new generation of activists.

Despite the risk of great personal loss, African-American women have had a long tradition of civil and human rights activism. That tradition lives on today in the experiences and examples of women activists and leaders like Angela Davis , Marian Wright Edelman , Eleanor Holmes Norton , Maxine Waters and Alice Walker.

Racist policies often kept African-American women out of the suffragist movement. The headquarters of Colored Women Voters, located in Georgia, was one of many early 20th-century organizations that fought for African-American suffrage.

 

 

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