As we approach the Centennial of the 19th Amendment in 2020, and the League’s 10th anniversary, columnists, historians and the League are coming to grips with the disconcerting truth that the suffrage movement sold out and betrayed black women.
LWVUS President Virginia Kase addressed this in Facing the Hard Truths About the League’s Origin: “The League was founded in 1920—just months before the ratification of the 19th Amendment—by American suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt was a complicated character, a political operative, and by modern standards, yes, racist. While fighting for the 19th Amendment and lobbying Southern senators, she famously claimed, “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.”
These remarks are sometimes brushed over as a sign of the times or a political strategy. But actions speak louder than words, and our organization was not welcoming to women of color through most of our existence.”
A recent NYT’s editorial, “When the Suffrage Movement Sold out White Supremacy”, by Brent Staples sheds more light and accurate historical perspective: “Historians like Glenda Gilmore, Martha Jones, Nell Irvin Painter and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn have recently revised the whitewashed depiction of the women’s rights campaign by rescuing black suffragists from anonymity. This new, more inclusive portrait of the movement grows richer by the year and shows African-American women at the forefront of a struggle for universal rights that was far from over when white suffragists declared victory in 1920.”
Brent Staples also wrote an enlightening piece in August, 2018 on how the Suffrage Movement Betrayed Black Women.
LWVUS CEO Virginia Kase: “Even during the Civil Rights movement, the League was not as present as we should have been. While activists risked life and limb to register black voters in the South, the League’s work and our leaders were late in joining to help protect all voters at the polls. It wasn’t until 1966 that we reached our first position to combat discrimination. Still, our focus on social policy was from afar—not on the front lines.
We acknowledge this shortcoming and that we have more work to do. Today, we invite all people, regardless of gender, gender identity, ethnicity, or race, to join us as we commit to righting the wrongs of our past and building a stronger, more inclusive democracy.
The League now has the following Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy.