African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965

By Ann D. Gordon; Bettye Collier-Thomas | Go to book overview
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Shining in the Dark:
Black Women and the
Struggle for the Vote,
1955-1965

Martha Prescod Norman

When disfranchised southern black women won the right to vote in the mid 1960s, it was the first time in the history of America that such women had voted. By 1960 the right of women to vote had been recognized for almost half a century, and at least two generations of southern black men had participated in the franchise beginning slightly less than 100 years earlier. Still, these southern black women had to engage in a serious and hard-fought battle in order to exercise this right. 1

Southern black women waged this battle in a context where the franchise was a part of a larger struggle to topple the system of racial oppression dominating southern life. They struggled hand in hand with their male counterparts, who were also unable to vote and suffering under the same yoke of racial oppression.

On one hand, this struggle was an attempt to claim basic American citizenship. On the other hand, this effort was part of a radical social movement that modified certain overall notions of the suffrage and influenced the ways in which American women of all racial backgrounds thought about themselves. Most importantly, this movement demonstrated that people with grievances, but with little conventional power, could move to change the social and political terms on which their lives were based. It showed that efforts to bring about social change could be successful.

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