The American Equal Rights Association Forms
After the Civil War, Black and white abolitionists and suffragists in the North came together in an appeal for universal suffrage.
The American Equal Rights Association (AERA) was formed and several Black women held leadership positions, including Harriet Purvis, Sarah Remond and Sojourner Truth, as well as white activists Abby Kelley Foster, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone.
15th Amendments Proposed - Tension Ripples Through the Movement
In the late 1860s, the 14th and 15th Amendments were being proposed. These Amendments focused on citizenship rights for newly freed African Americans and voting rights for Black men. The movement quickly became less unified as politicians debated suffrage for African American men, and the divide exposed significant differences in experiences, needs and priorities of whites and of African Americans.
Prominent leaders like Frederick Douglass called on women to temporarily hold off on the issue of women’s suffrage. This plea from Douglass caused tension among women’s suffrage advocates; some were committed to supporting Black men while others were impatient because it was clear that politicians had less interest in extending the vote to women.
The argument (by politicians) was that women did not “need” the vote to protect themselves as African Americans did in the South. Below the surface, however, were political motivations. After the Civil War, the Republican Party of the North was in power, and party leaders saw African American men as a potential voting base in the South, but there were no obvious political reasons for them to fight for women’s right to vote.
The Movement Divides Over 15th Amendment
Some suffragists, like Stanton, were fearful of African American men gaining the vote before women, and they accused Black men of abandoning the women’s suffrage cause. There were often racist attitudes behind those frustrations, but there were also fears that momentum would dwindle if they redirected their energies toward African American male suffrage.
In an effort to maintain energy toward women’s suffrage, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the charge for a new movement that broke away from the Republican Party and their abolitionist roots.
Their new movement was radical and revolutionary in a lot of ways, but the strategy was based around pitting white women against Black men.
THIS PUT BLACK WOMEN IN A PARTICULARLY DIFFICULT POSITION.
For African American women, the right to vote was about more than gaining independence from men. African Americans, by and large, supported universal suffrage from the beginning because the right to vote meant a huge step toward freedom within the system in which they had no say.
Many White suffragists, on the other hand, supported universal suffrage when it seemed like the best strategy for victory.