Evette Dionne, editor-in-chief of Bitch Media and author of Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box, discusses her Coretta Scott King Author Honor book with Martha S. Jones, author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.

In Lifting as We Climb, Dionne tells the important, overlooked story of Black women as a force in the suffrage movement—even when fellow suffragists did not accept them as equal partners in the struggle. Through this powerful book, she draws an important historical line from abolition to suffrage to civil rights to contemporary young activists, filling in the blanks of the American suffrage story.

In Vanguard, Jones offers a new history of African American women’s political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. She excavates the lives and work of Black women who were the vanguard of women’s rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.

As part of the Virginia Festival of the Book’s Shelf Life virtual series, this event is FREE to attend and open to the public. To attend, please register below or simply make plans to watch on Facebook.com/VaBookFest. The video recording from this event will also be available to watch after the event concludes, on VaBook.org/watch.

This event will offer captions.

To listen to the related episode, Who Votes?, on With Good Reason Radio, click here.

“Dionne provides a detailed and comprehensive look at the overlooked roles African American women played in the efforts to end slavery and then to secure the right to vote for women, arguing that Black women worked consistently for their communities in all areas. A lively and critical addition as the United States commemorates the centennial of women’s suffrage.”

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

This Coretta Scott King Author Honor book—Lifting as We Climb—tells the important, overlooked story of Black women as a force in the suffrage movement—when fellow suffragists did not accept them as equal partners in the struggle.

Susan B. Anthony. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Alice Paul. The Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. The 1913 Women’s March in D.C. When the epic story of the suffrage movement in the United States is told, the most familiar leaders, speakers at meetings, and participants in marches written about or pictured are generally white. That’s not the real story. Women of color, especially African American women, were fighting for their right to vote and to be treated as full, equal citizens of the United States. Their battlefront wasn’t just about gender. African American women had to deal with white abolitionist-suffragists who drew the line at sharing power with their Black sisters. They had to overcome deep, exclusionary racial prejudices that were rife in the American suffrage movement. And they had to maintain their dignity—and safety—in a society that tried to keep them in its bottom ranks.

Lifting as We Climb is the empowering story of African American women who refused to accept all this. Women in Black church groups, Black female sororities, Black women’s improvement societies and social clubs. Women who formed their own Black suffrage associations when white-dominated national suffrage groups rejected them. Women like Mary Church Terrell, a founder of the National Association of Colored Women and of the NAACP; or educator-activist Anna Julia Cooper who championed women getting the vote and a college education; or the crusading journalist Ida B. Wells, a leader in both the suffrage and anti-lynching movements.

“Jones has written an elegant and expansive history of Black women who sought to build political power where they could. Jones is an assiduous scholar and an absorbing writer, turning to the archives to unearth the stories of Black women who worked alongside white suffragists only to be marginalized.”

The New York Times

Vanguard is the epic history of African American women’s pursuit of political power—and how it transformed America. In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women’s movement did not win the vote for most Black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own.


In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women’s political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of Black women—Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer, and more—who were the vanguard of women’s rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.

SPONSOR

This program was funded by the “Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

COMMUNITY PARTNERS

Thanks to Charlottesville NOW and the UVA Democracy Initiative for their help in sharing this event.

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