In August, the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, turned a century year old. When it was ratified, it proclaimed “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” But this did not apply to Black women.
Black women were excluded from the suffragette movement, and didn’t receive their right to vote, even though they lobbied hard for it. Their exclusion from the 19th amendment ignited a movement among Black suffragists in later years like Mary Church Terrell, and Fannie Lou Hamer. Through the decades, Black women have protested, educated each other, and formed organizations, but Jim Crow laws found ways to block their ability to vote. Barriers like poll taxes, literacy tests and various state laws stating descendants of slaves couldn’t vote, were all attempts to keep Black women from the polls. And unfortunately, a century later, there are still tactics created only to keep Black people from voting.
In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer stated that she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” during a speech at the Democratic National Convention. Hamer was routinely threatened because of her work as a Black suffragist, but she didn’t let those threats deter her.
Hamer’s quote still rings true in 2020. Black women are still sick and tired of being sick and tired. But we will not let modern day voter suppression, long lines and a pandemic keep us from the polls. Our ancestors fought for the right to vote, and some even died fighting.
A recent Higher Heights poll of 506 likely 2020 Black women voters, showed that 75% of Black women are now more motivated than ever to vote. And that motivation is fueled by seeing the countless images of police brutality across our television screens, the fact that our reproduction rights are currently being threatened, and the fact that we don’t know if we’ll end up like Breonna Taylor, or if our children will make it home at night.
Systemic racism and injustice has played a huge role in the shaping of this country. But the only way to remedy any of these societal ills is heading to the polls. Not only does the presidential election shape our country, but statewide elections that are happening across the country are also important when it comes to voting.
As Black women, we are not allowed to be complacent when it comes to our role in getting the right elected officials into office. And as a record number of mail-in voting has already taken place, imagine what election day will look like. We will not be deterred.
We are the embodiment of the work put forth by Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman, and the countless other Black women whose blood, sweat and tears paved the way for us. And as the saying goes, we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams, and therefore we must follow in their footsteps and head to the polls.
Lakeila R. Stemmons is the national director for Higher Heights for America,the only national organization providing Black women with a political home exclusively dedicated to harnessing their power to expand Black women’s elected representation and voting participation, and advance progressive policies.