Alpha Suffrage Club

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The Alpha Suffrage Club is believed to be the first black women's suffrage association in the United States. It began in Chicago, Illinois in 1913 under the initiative of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her white colleague, Belle Squire. The Club aimed to reinforce African American involvement in the struggle for women's suffrage, due to African American women being unable to be involved in the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The Alpha Suffrage Club was established to partially give a voice to women who could not represent their selves individually, and worked specifically towards giving a voice to black women, as well as to “politicize” black women into the government system. In 1916, the club had nearly 200 members, including well-known female suffrage activists Mary E. Jackson, Viola Hill, Vera Wesley Green, and Sadie L. Adams. Within the next three years the group burgeoned into the thousands. The women were motivated by and sought to put an end to the countless lynchings of African Americans. [1]

Historical Context[edit]

In the late 18th Century, African Americans withstood immense difficulties in terms of racial abuse, social inequality, and they even faced the cruel lynchings of the Jim Crow south. And unfortunately for African American women of this era, they were ranked lowest in social acceptance. Black women's role was extremely subservient to men for they were denied access to vote, access to a quality education, and access to any social mobility. Therefore they did not have a life of ease or relaxation. The role of black women was mainly confined to domestic responsibilities such as the rearing of children, housekeeping, feeding the family, and other household duties. The wives of black farm men were also charged with working the fields and refining their harvest.

Moreover, due to their very low social status, black women were not usually guaranteed the legal protection of the law. African American women were often abused and raped by their male counterparts and this was often done with impunity on the part of their attackers. In the late 1800s many women were murdered through the practice of lynching. On a false accusation alone, a black female of the south could be hung by her neck amongst a mob of white neighbors. They could be lynched based on lies or sheer ignorance while they were denied a trial or any judicious outlet to prove innocence. This would fuel Ida B Wells and her crusade against lynching for they did not have protection from the state or courts. Thus African American women were denied basic human rights despite the law having "freed" them from bondage.

Black women were also treated unequal to white women. After the ratification of the 15th amendment, black women were still denied the right to vote. They also did not have government programs or support to protect them. In short, African American Women faced hardship and scrutiny anywhere they went in the late 1800s and dearly needed to be protected.

Ida B. Wells, circa 1893

Difficulties Faced[edit]

Despite the expansion and support obtained by the Club within one year, African American women still had to endure grave difficulties. First off, the African American men did not want the women to be in the political sphere. In 1914, during the primary elections for alderman of the city, women made posters and encouraged other African Americans to vote. There were a large number of men who followed these women around and criticized them for acting out against their role in society.

Furthermore, the unwillingness of white female suffrage activists to incorporate African Americans to their struggle displayed a clear existence of discrimination. Ida B. Wells stood firm in her struggle with the National American Woman Suffrage Association parade on March 3, 1913 in Washington, D.C. Although the president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association warned her that her involvement could lead to the exclusion of the Illinois group from the parade, she managed to sneak into the parade next to two sympathetic members; a picture of this occurrence was in the Chicago Daily Tribune shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, difficulties such as these were endured by African American women's suffrage activists, and these incidents reiterated the fact that race, gender, and political equality needed to be a joined effort. [2]

The Election of Oscar De Priest[edit]

Following six years after the Club's creation and the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States constitution, the efforts of the Alpha Suffrage Club shifted towards the campaign to elect the first African-American alderman to Chicago's City Council. Initial canvassing efforts by African-American women in Chicago's Ward 2 were met with resistance, and the club's candidate was not elected. Their efforts were noticed by the Republican Party presence who sent two delegates to the club's regular meetings. The women were encouraged to keep campaigning, with the promise that an African-American candidate would be nominated by the party in a coming election. In 1915, their efforts were rewarded with Ward 2 electing Oscar De Priest, the first African-American alderman.

Achievements[edit]

The Alpha Suffrage Club, albeit having opposing factors due to the fact that the members were mainly African American and women, was able to transcend and give power to African American women. Among their achievements it is important to mention their implementation of a black system to canvas neighborhoods, organizing once a week meeting sessions as learning centers on the rights and duties of citizens. They also succeeded in registering three thousand woman in the 2nd ward, with the help of Ida B. Wells and Barnett, going block by block canvassing the predominantly black wards to get woman registered to vote in the aldermanic primaries in Chicago in 1914. Thanks to the help of the Alpha Suffrage group, in 1915, Oscar De Priest became the first African American alderman in the history of Chicago. Amongst their community activities, they also spread their support for, and within, the African American population with their newsletter, the Alpha Suffrage Record. The publishing of this newsletter is very significant, because this is the first time that African Americans have a public political voice. [3]

Impact[edit]

The Alpha Suffrage Club served not only to secure women's rights within Illinois and the greater United States, but also to spread significant support for, and within, the African-American population. Its creation in 1913 played a significant role in the passing of the Illinois Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Bill in the summer of that year, which allowed African-American women the chance to combine their electoral powers along with their social welfare business. The Alpha Suffrage Club's social activist members were also a key force in bringing awareness to the struggle for women's voting rights. Their demonstrations and protests assisted in bringing about the US Congress approval of the Susan B. Anthony constitutional amendment on June 10, 1919, which took effect as the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920 - granting women the right to vote, and making the United States the 27th country to grant women's suffrage.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hendricks, Wanda (1997). "Alpha Suffrage Club". Black Women in America: Social Activism. New York: Facts On File, Inc. Press. 
  2. ^ http://www.lib.niu.edu/1996/iht319630.html
  3. ^ Hendricks, Wanda (1994). "Alpha Suffrage Club". Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 25–26. ISBN 0-253-32774-1. 

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