Since 1973, August 26 has marked Women’s Equality Day. The day commemorates the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote.
The 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, but it actually wasn’t certified until it was signed by a government official eight days later. Not to mention, all women weren’t granted the right to vote until Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
The charge to celebrate the 19th amendment, was led by 50,000 second-wave feminists, who marched down Fifth Avenue in News York City. The march took place on 50th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment to demand women’s rights including abortion access, better and affordable childcare, and equal access to education and employment. Known as the “Women’s Strike for Equality March,” sponsored by the National Organization for Women (NOW), the women locked arms and blocked traffic during rush hour.
New York congresswoman Bella Abzug created and championed the bill to celebrate the momentous occasion. While mainstream white feminism has historically excluded Black women’s efforts in achieving true equality, as we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, here’s a look at four Black women who had a hand in the passing of the holiday.
Rep. Yvonne Burke
In 1966 Burke became the first African-American woman elected to the California assembly. That same year she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress from California–a historic year, as Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm also were the only Black women at that point ever elected to Congress. Burke also won as the first woman chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Though Burke would go on to be the “first” throughout her career, the most notable headline would come in 1973. She became the first Congresswoman to give birth and be granted maternity leave while serving in Congress, a precedent that cannot be missed on Women’s Equality Day.
By 2012 she was appointed to the Amtrak board of directors by President Barack Obama. She also serves on the California transportation commission and has been through both the Trump and Biden administrations.
Congresswoman Barbara Jordan
Representative Barbara Jordan the first Black woman elected to the Texas state senate (the first of any southern state) and the first Black Texan in Congress in 1972. Jordan was a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. She introduced civil rights amendments to legislation authorizing law enforcement assistance grants. Following the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Jordan sponsored legislation that broadened the provisions of the act to include Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. In 1976 she became the first woman and the first African-American keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention. In 1994 Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. Jordan died of leukemia-related pneumonia on January 17, 1996. According to the New York Times, “No landmark legislation bears her name. Yet few lawmakers in this century have left a more profound and positive impression on the nation than Barbara Jordan.”
Rep. Cardiss Collins
Elected to 12 consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Cardiss Collins ranks as one of the longest-serving women of color in the history of Congress. As one of only a handful of women to serve in Congress for more than 20 years, and the only Black woman in the chamber for six years, Representative Collins was a dedicated legislator. Collins became As only the second woman to hold the leadership position in the CBC and as the fourth Black woman ever to serve in the U.S. House, she never strayed away from the spotlight. She was vocal about her disapproval with President Jimmy Carter’s civil rights record and criticized him for failing to pass legislation making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday. She also drafted legislation to help elderly women and women with disabilities receive Medicare coverage for mammograms and introduced a law designating October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Collins died in 2013, at the age of 81.
Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm
The “unbossed and unbought” Shirley Chisholm was a political powerhouse. Though now she is revered in history as the first African-American Congresswoman and the first African-American woman to run for president, her political moves caused a lot of issues across racial and gender lines. Chisholm’s candidacy split the CBC as many of her male colleagues felt she had not consulted them first. Many of them believed that her actions betrayed the group’s interests by trying to create a coalition of women, Hispanics, white liberals, and welfare recipients. Chisholm called out the misogyny declaring: “Black male politicians are no different from white male politicians. This ‘woman thing’ is so deep. I’ve found it out in this campaign if I never knew it before.” While dealing with the gender issue within her race, she also dealt with race issues within her gender. Her presidential campaign also strained her relationship with fellow Members of Congress, particularly Bella Abzug. Though Abzug and Chilsom worked together in the women’s liberation movement, Abzug opted to endorse South Dakota Senator George Stanley McGovern instead of her friend Chisholm. Chisholm left Congress in 1983 and co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women campaign.