by Nia Tariq, Corvallis Gazette Times, August 19, 2020
It’s been 100 years since 36 states agreed to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, securing the right of U.S. citizens to vote regardless of their sex.
For decades, however, that right only applied to white women.
In a virtual meeting August 18th, the centennial of the 19th amendment’s 1920 ratification, the League of Women Voters of Corvallis led a seminar addressing the racist history of the women’s suffrage movement.
Jessica McDonald, president of the League, said when many people learn about suffrage, they learn about white women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But they don’t learn about women of other races, such as Ida B. Wells or Mabel Ping-Hua Lee.
“This singular narrative leaves out the reality that, for so many in this country, they would not see the right to vote for decades,” McDonald said.
Sujittra Avery Carr, an Oregon State University graduate of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, said there is still much to be done to include everyone in the voting process.
“We talk about women’s suffrage as if it’s over. We kind of truncate it,” Carr said. “The language around what we say often puts it in this place in history. But it’s very continued, active work. It’s not just the work of the women who got the 19th Amendment ratified.”
Furthermore, said NAACP Corvallis/Albany branch president Angel Harris, some states hadn’t taken the symbolic step of ratifying the amendment until decades later. As a Mississippi native, Harris said she looks up to women like Wells who kept pushing to have their voices heard, and takes pride in voting to continue that legacy.
“Mississippi was one of the states that did not vote to ratify the amendment (in 1920),” Harris said. “It wasn’t until March of 1984 that my dear Mississippi decided. So if someone asks me if I’m going to vote … I don’t have a choice.”
McDonald provided examples of recent systems designed to exclude groups of people from registering to vote or successfully casting a ballot.
One Georgia policy, known as “exact match,” would suspend someone’s status if their voter registration information didn’t mirror their state ID or social security records. It has since been overturned for violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Other policies like gerrymandering and, in some states, felony disenfranchisement remain in effect today.
These policies disproportionately affect people from racial minorities or low-income backgrounds.
“Just because something is written into law,” Carr said, doesn’t mean it’s enacted properly or people aren’t still working to better the resulting issues.
“Oftentimes people don’t understand how recent it has been that people of color have had the right to vote,” said fellow panelist and Corvallis School Board member Luhui Whitebear. Despite the involvement of minority women during the suffrage movement, “it was the white women’s work that made it look revolutionary in the eyes of society.”
The panelists agreed that it’s important to prevent history repeating itself. One way is to not just include but also uplift minority voices.don’t,” Carr said.