The Nadir: Black Suffrage Leaders and Activism

Additional Black suffrage leaders emerged independent of the NAWSA during this time. While some women remained relatively conservative in their approach, many of the younger voices were more radical and they departed further from the ideas of white suffragists. Despite differences, there was unity among Black suffragists in their goal of improving the status of Black women and African Americans as a whole. This message attracted large audiences and gained broad support within their communities, across genders.

 

Women's Activism Picks Up

Washington, D.C. was a hub of suffrage activity across races. Among those active included Black suffragists Mary Church Terrell and Coralie Franklin Cook, and lesbian poet and feminist Angelina Weld Grimké, each of whom represented the African American elite.

The movement also included social activist and mentor Anna J. Cooper and co-founder of the Black Baptist Women’s Convention Nannie Burroughs, both of whom were raised in humble circumstances. All six straddled both Black and white worlds in their activism, and their philosophies ranged from more conservative to radical feminist.

Black churches, colleges and newspapers were especially helpful to the suffrage cause as they gave Black women much greater support, education and visibility than they would have had in white society.

Journalism as a Pathway to Justice

Some examples of women journalists include: (already mentioned) Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Mary McCurdy, Gertrude Mossell, anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells and Carrie Langston (later mother to Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes).

Langston often used her platform to criticize men who suggested women were content with being limited to the home, and she strongly encouraged women to get involved in politics.  

Labor and economic justice were also important issues brought forth by Black activists, demonstrating how access to the ballot would improve the conditions of working-class women. Newspapers were used to broadcast these messages in part to African American women to urge them to embrace the suffrage cause.