African-American women in politics
African-American women have been involved in American political issues and advocating for the community since the American Civil War era through organizations, clubs, community-based social services, and advocacy. Issues that deal with identity, racism, and sexism have been important to African-American women in the political dialogue.
Suffrage and voting rights
Efforts to attain universal suffrage began during the 1860s in response to the events of the American Civil War. It was Sojourner Truth who gave a historic speech during the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851, that made many people stop and listen and was introduced to a wider audience when transcribed and published by Marius Robinson, an abolitionist reporter. The speech, "Ain't I A Woman?" discussed American white women's privilege, and the courtesies that were not given to African-American women. While African-American men attained the vote in 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment, African-American women were still unable to participate in political elections. It was during the 1890s that women's suffrage efforts began. During the period, African-American women were widely minimized or ignored due to racism from white suffragists or general sexism.
Though women obtained the right to vote in the United States in 1920, many women of color still ran into obstacles. Some faced tests that required them to interpret the Constitution in order to vote. Others were threatened with physical violence, false charges, and other extreme danger to prevent voting. Due to these tactics and others that marginalized people of color, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was put into place. It outlawed any discriminatory acts to prevent people from voting.
Women and Black Power
Despite the fact that elements of the Black Power movement had some views centered on misogyny, African-American women quickly found a voice in the movement. Women held leadership positions, ran community-based programs, and fought misogyny. Other women also contributed to the grass-roots movement through community service."In the age of rights, antipoverty, and power campaigns, black women in community-based and often women-centered organizations, like their female counterparts in nationally known organizations, harnessed and engendered Black Power through their speech and iconography as participants of tenant councils, welfare rights groups, and a black female religious order."
African-American women have been underrepresented in politics within the United States, but numbers continue to increase. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, currently 13 African-American women serve in the 112th Congress, with 239 state legislators serving nationwide. The paths to public office for women in the African-American community have differed from men and other groups, such as women's organizations, rallies, and fundraisers.
Though African-American women have run for presidential nomination in several campaigns, many have been labeled as "non-viable" due partly to their party affiliations, i.e., Charlene Mitchell in 1968 for the Communist Party USA, Lenora Fulani in 1988 for the New Alliance Party, and Cynthia McKinney in 2008 for the Green Party. Shirley Chisholm ran as both the "black candidate" and the "woman candidate" in the 1972 presidential campaign and "found herself shunned by leaders from the political establishments she helped to found—the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women's Political Caucus." Still, Chisholm was able to gain 151 votes at the Democratic National Convention, despite missing the presidential nomination.
In 1993, Carol Moseley Braun became the first African American woman to be elected to the United States Senate, and the only female senator from Illinois. Braun's original spark came from her anger at incumbent Democratic senator Alan Dixon's vote to confirm Clarence Thomas after his 1991 sexual harassment scandal. Shortly after being elected, Braun took a one-woman stand against the United Daughters of the Confederacy's renewal of patent for the Confederate flag as their insignia. Though Braun considered it a non-issue, she was still puzzled: "Who would have expected a design patent for the Confederate flag?" Incredibly, Braun was able to sway the Senate vote against renewal of the patent. The United Daughters of the Confederacy no longer uses the confederate flag as their insignia.
Condoleezza Rice became the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State in the United States in 2005 under President George W. Bush, she also became the first woman to serve as the National Security Advisor. She was known and widely criticized for her views on foreign policy and the American War in Iraq.
Although not in political office, Michelle Obama, the first African-American First Lady of the United States, has made an impact on women in the 21st century. Obama became first Lady of the United States in 2009, when her husband, Barack Obama, took office as President of the United States. Michelle Obama has donated her services to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other urban social services, but she eventually found her niche in childhood obesity. Obama has created Let's Move in an effort to reduce childhood obesity around the nation.
A number of organizations supporting African-American women have historically played an important role in politics. The National Association of Colored Women (NACW), founded in 1896 by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell, is one of the oldest political groups created for and by African-American women. Among its objectives were equal rights, eliminating lynching, and defeating Jim Crow laws. Another organization, the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), was founded in 1935 by civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune and was more involved in African-American politics with the aim to improve the quality of life for African-American women and families. NCNW still exists today as a non-profit organization reaching out through research, advocacy, and social services in the United States and Africa.
In 1946 Mary Fair Burks founded the Women's Political Council (WPC) as a response to discrimination in the Montgomery League of Women Voters, who refused to allow African-American women to join. The WPC sought to improve social services for the African-American community and is famously known for instigating the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
In the 1970s, the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) sought to address issues unique to African-American women such as racism, sexism, and classism. Though in previous years feminism and suffrage had been considered a white women's fight, NBFO "refused to make black women choose between being black and being female." Margaret Sloan-Hunter, one of its founders, went on to help found Ms. Magazine, a magazine focusing on a feminist take on news issues. Though the organization had disintegrated by 1977, another organization, which formed just a year after the NBFO in 1974, turned out to be one of the most important black feminist organizations of our time. Combahee River Collective was founded by African-American feminist and lesbian, Barbara Smith, and described themselves as a "collective of Black feminists [...] involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while [...] doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements." Perhaps the most notable piece to come out of the Combahee River Collective was the Combahee River Collective Statement, which helped to expand on ideas about identity politics.
- Category:African-American women in politics
- African-American Woman Suffrage Movement
- Black Feminism
- Women in government
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