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How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

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15 min read
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Black women led the struggle for women to vote and to gain social and political rights and power.

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Most people know about the contributions of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in securing rights for women in the United States, but few are aware of their Black female contemporaries, leaders who worked for decades first to abolish slavery, then to secure universal suffrage. Black women leaders continued the long push to exercise their rights despite Jim Crow laws and discrimination meant to suppress their votes. They helped build the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Martha S. Jones recounts the stories of the unsung heroines who led the long struggle for Black political equality and women’s suffrage rights.



Black women in the early American republic first joined politics in their churches and in the press.

African Americans fought in America’s Revolutionary War to defend equality for all. Free African Americans built communities in Northern cities. Many leaders, Caucasian and Black, saw the United States as a white country and advocated “colonization” to relocate former slaves to Africa or the Caribbean. After the Revolutionary War, Black men could vote, though Northern states limited that right. Settlers founded Ohio and Missouri as states in which only white men could vote.

Black Americans allied in the “colored convention movement” to advocate for political rights and power. Men expected women to help build communities while also taking care of their families. Most Black women worked as domestic servants, seamstresses, laundresses and nurses. Some became church and community leaders. Women pursued education, which alarmed men.

White and Black women sometimes joined together to fight slavery.

Abolitionists proposed that they could change hearts and minds by using “moral suasion,” convincing people that slavery and racism were un-American and un-Christian...

About the Author

 Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and history professor at Johns Hopkins University. She also wrote Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America and All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture.

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