women; suffrage; voting rights; African American; social movements; Rhode Island
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August of 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. But did this mean equal suffrage for all women? African American women faced a series of obstacles in exercising suffrage rights. Some of these challenges came from within the suffrage movement itself.
Post-1920, Black women voted in Rhode Island (unlike the Jim Crow South) and made great strides in cross-racial suffrage collaboration. Yet Rhode Island was no exception when it came to divisions over race. African American suffragists in Rhode Island have a story unique from the overarching popular narratives of the predominantly white women’s suffrage movement. My paper examines the following question: How did African American women organize their suffrage clubs and what impact did this have on the overall struggle for women’s suffrage in the state of Rhode Island?
My study begins with an analysis of the relationship between African American women suffragists and the predominantly white mainstream suffrage movement. I then primarily focus on how suffragists used mobilizing structures, such as Black churches, to organize their movement. Specifically, I analyze the understudied role of individual Black suffragists, including Mary E. Jackson, in pushing forward women’s rights. The contributions of African American women suffragists are crucial to understanding voting history in Rhode Island.