Suffrage for Black WomenOverview
This 10-minute video chronicles the role played by Black women in fighting for the right to vote, and opposing the various mechanisms of voter disenfranchisement, suppression, and intimidation. Focusing on the racially unequal consequences of ratification of the 19th Amendment, the video shows how Black women have successfully engaged in advocacy and activism relating to voting rights issues, including participation in the campaign to pass the Voting Rights Act, and modern-day opposition to various schemes of voter suppression. Useful for lessons focused on voting rights and racial inequality at the ballot box, the lesson helps students draw a line between past struggles over ballot access and present controversies over voting rights.
- How the Voting Rights Act and the 19th Amendment relate to the expansion of opportunities for political participation.
- How the 19th Amendment provided voting rights to white women, but frequently not to Black women.
- How Black women have engaged in protest and activism in order to secure the right to vote.
- Civics & Government
- U.S. History
- Gender Studies
- Social Studies
- AP U.S. Government & Politics
- Civil Rights
- Black History
- Campaigns and Elections
- Civic Engagement
- Cultural and Social Change
- Lyndon Johnson
- Race in U.S. History
- The Civil Rights Movement
- Supreme Court
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965
- The 19th Amendment
- 1960s America
- 1970s America
- The Modern Era (1980-Present)
Introducing the Lesson
The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 and barred states from denying women the right to vote, but that victory was not shared by all.
African-American women across the South were still disenfranchised by determined segregationists, who used a variety of tactics to keep them from the polls, including state laws, poll taxes and literacy tests.
As a result, many of these women would not even have a chance to cast a vote until the 1960s, and then only after a long and protracted fight by the civil rights movement.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, and Septima Clark were among the many African American women who played a central role in that movement. They ran programs to educate potential voters, marched, and were often jailed and sometimes beaten for seeking the Constitutional right to vote in a segregated state.
Their struggle was heard when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed many barriers to voting and placed counties with a history of discrimination under federal oversight.
The impact on voter registration was soon evident. By 1968, African American voter registration rates in 11 Southern states increased 50 percent from 1964. And more Black voters eventually led to the election of more Black candidates to local, state, and national offices.
But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the voting rights act that provided federal monitoring of counties with a history of discriminatory voting practices.
That led many states to adopt stricter voting procedures, such as voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect African American and Hispanic voters.
African American women again responded, participating in voter education and registration groups, and made clear that the right to vote still remains a fight for many.
- When was the 19th Amendment ratified? How long did it take for some Black women to actually have access to voting?
- After the 19th Amendment was passed, what legal obstacles prevented many Black women from voting?
- How did the Voting Rights Act of 1965 expand access to the ballot? How did activists help trigger passage of the Act?
- What obstacles still discourage or prevent Black people from voting?
- What is the difference between the right to vote, and the ability to vote? What factors cause this difference?
- Do you think citizens should be required to show a photo ID to vote? Why do some groups of people in society have different attitudes toward this issue than others? How do cultural and historical experiences with voting shape attitudes toward issues like ballot access and the rules surrounding voting?
- The phrase “voter fraud” generally refers to situations in which people who shouldn’t be eligible to vote are able to cast ballots, or when registered voters vote multiple times. The phrase “voter suppression” generally refers to situations in which citizens who are eligible to vote are discouraged or prevented from doing so. Which do you think is a larger problem in the modern United States? What evidence supports your view?
- In the video, the Secretary of State of Alabama, John Merrill, argues, “The days we have had in the past, in Alabama and other states in the union, where people have attempted to take advantage of individuals by making it more difficult for them to participate in the process, are long gone.” Do you think problems of racial inequality in voting rights are “long gone”?
Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Analyze multiple and complex causes and effect of events in the past.
Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
Topic 5.3: Political Parties
Topic 5.8: Electing a President
Topic 5.9: Congressional Elections
Topic 5.10: Modern Campaigns
Skill 1.D: Describe political principles, institutions, processes, policies, and behaviors illustrated in different scenarios in context.