The suffragist movement loves to tout the praises of its pillars: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But it was the brilliance of the testimony of Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives on the matter of women’s sufferage which put a fine point on women’s suffrage. In doing so, she was the first African-American woman to vote in a national election.
Despite her being a teacher, publisher, abolitionist, and a lawyer later in her life, what is so disconcerting is how early suffragists dismiss her! Hidden figure indeed. It was the same woman touted a champion of women’s rights being quoted to have said they would not champion of Negro rights.
Get into this (taken from susannanthonyhouseorg):
“… Imagine Anthony’s indignation when she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were privately approached by Wendell Phillips and Theodore Tilton to suspend work for universal suffrage, to concentrate on getting the vote for men of color only. Anthony’s biographer, Ida Husted Harper reports that Anthony responded that “she would sooner cut off her right arm before she would ever work for or demand the ballot for the black man and not the woman.” It was a betrayal to Susan B. Anthony to be asked to compromise on the issue of universal suffrage.”
Now, Susan B. Anthony is purported to not have meant this quote in the way that it is presented, but the curators of her legacy report this (again taken from susanbanthonyhouse.org):
“Shortly after this, Anthony and Frederick Douglass divided over the issue [who should get the right to vote first–Black men or white women]. Douglass believed that it was a matter of life and death to grant emancipated men the right to vote. Out of this disagreement has grown the perception that Anthony chose white women over all people of color, which is a misrepresentation. We only need to look at her words, “It is not a question of precedence between women & black men. Neither has a claim to precedence upon an Equal Rights platform. But the business of this association is to demand for every man black or white, & for every woman, black or white, that they shall be this instant enfranchised & admitted into the body politic with equal rights & privileges.
There were certainly moments in the woman’s suffrage movement when the actions and words of the leaders betrayed their own racism and bigotry. At the Anthony Museum, we want to confront the ways in which Susan B. Anthony has been used to perpetuate racism, both in her time, and in ours. We want to recognize the ways in which the Anthony Museum might also be reinforcing bias and racism. “
Now, I’ve only been Black all my life, but the thing I noticed about this quote (and its backhanded explanation) was it doesn’t even acknowledge the role of Black women in the suffrage movement! She doesn’t even acknowledge that without Mary Ann Shadd Cary perhaps this issue may not have even gotten addressed! Let alone, legislation created and passed!
And now, a century and more after Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s passing, very few people know about her role in the legal framework of women’s suffrage. She and other suffragists (like our patron saint, Ida Bell Wells Barnett) are often overlooked: their contributions erased, and presence sponged or blotted out. The Women’s Movement, this first wave secured the right to vote, could not have been sustained without Black women like our Mother Ida, Mary Ann Shadd Cary and whomever else whitewashed history refuses to list!
This initial wave excluded our Blackness; needing to focus on our womanhood for strength in numbers. Until it was a detriment to ‘progress’. No matter what Susan B. Anthony ‘meant’, it doesn’t excuse how Ida B. Wells Barnett was asked to march in back of a suffrage march as not to ‘offend’ the Southern white women. Notice, reading carefully, she doesn’t defend this point to a level they can be considered an apology! The same logic that lead her to say this, is the same logic she uses to stand on it!
You need us until you don’t need us–and then you don’t even see us. A friend of mine says it this way:
“My sex got the right to vote before my race did!”
The same energy y’all have for Susan B. Anthony, and her runnin’ buddy Elizabeth Cady Stanton, remember it wasn’t them that when to the white male lion’s den of postbellum Congress to testify why women–all women–need the right vote! The history of women’s rights in this country don’t just belong to two white women!
Black women have been pillars, mortar and brick of this nation since its inception and being enslaved! We are always the hidden figures, the glue that holds everything together. It is past time that the glue get painted–so we can see what really holds everything together.
[image from cappuccinosoul.blogspot.com]