African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965

By Ann D. Gordon; Bettye Collier-Thomas | Go to book overview

The Quest for Justice:
African American Women
Litigants, 1867-1890

Janice Sumler-Edmond

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, African American women used the judicial system to redress racial discrimination and to define the parameters of their newfound citizenship. Such resorts to legal solutions were timely. To paraphrase novelist Charles Dickens's immortal words, the promise of the best of times and the reality of the worst of times existed for African Americans—both women and men—in the decades following the Civil War. Promise of the best of times could be discerned from the ratification of three post-Civil War constitutional amendments. By virtue of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments, African Americans gained emancipation, citizenship, and the franchise for black men. However, Congress did not stop with these vitally important amendments. It also passed a host of progressive civil rights laws and created the Freedmen's Bureau. Such actions were intended to assist blacks in the transition from slavery to freedom with all the rights and privileges of citizenship. 1

Unfortunately, the harsh reality of the worst of times frequently overshadowed the promise of the best of times. At least one historian has labeled the era from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century as the nadir of the black experience in America. Promises of equality

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