For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932

By Lisa G. Materson | Go to book overview

Conclusion

“Oh say, Lovie did you hear about Jennie E. Lawrence?” asked “WireTappings” in late October 1932. A regular Defender column that announced the comings and goings of social life on the South Side, “Wire-Tappings” was written as if the author was directly interacting with a reader. Adhering to this format, the author responded to an imagined lack of recognition: “You do know her, too. She lives at 4439 Calumet Ave., and is one of the biggest political figures in Chicago.” The purpose of Lawrence’s mention was to share news of her health: “She has been sick in the hospital with an ailment of her foot. At one time they thought they would have to amputate it. Well, she has recovered sufficiently to return to her home.” Ten days after this article appeared, Chicago and the nation would go to the polls again. Politics, it seems, was never far from Lawrence’s mind, so much so that “Wire-Tappings” cautioned, “I think that she retards her own progress by worrying about the campaign.” The columnist apparently had this information secondhand: “She told a friend of mine that this is the first campaign in many years during which she had not visited every ward and community in Chicago and Cook county, where our people live. You know that she has headed the women’s division of the Third ward regular Republican organization of which Congressman DePriest is committeeman. Jennie is a fluent speaker and has always been in demand.”1

In an odd way, it was perhaps fitting that 1932 was the first year that Lawrence, one of Chicago’s most active Republican women campaigners, was unable to make her regular canvassing rounds. Like Lawrence herself, the Republican Party’s health among black voters was in decline. For nineteen years, Lawrence had attempted to use her ballot to elect officials who would protect black citizenship rights. Her desire to use the electoral system, and the Republican Party specifically, for this purpose was shaped by her early experiences in the Carolinas. As the daughter of a Reconstruction-era Republican politician and a teacher of freed peoples, Lawrence had learned from her parents about white Democrats’ dismantling of Reconstruction in North Carolina. She had seen her mother struggle to educate freed peoples during the nadir of the 1880s. As a teenager, Lawrence watched as a dis-

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