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African American Women's Legacy Is Political Power

Sunday, September 2, 2012

African American women have become an increasingly important voting block, says Cindy Hooper in her book "Conflict." In this excerpt, she examines how black women started to gain this importance in politics.

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African American women have become an increasingly important voting block, says Cindy Hooper in her book "Conflict." In this excerpt, she examines how black women started to gain this importance in politics.



African American women march in a Labor Day parade in 1960
African American women march in a Labor Day parade in 1960

 

 

Credit: ElizabethForMA on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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(WOMENSENEWS)--Today, African American women can stand proudly on the legacy of millions of humanists: men, women and even children of various races and ethnicities who laid the groundwork for the world that many have the opportunity to thrive in today. Grateful for the sacrifices and the trailblazing that would have prevented any of us in this current day from living the exuberant lives that are led in this new millennium, we pay homage to the indebtedness of so many throughout our history.

The new millennium black woman has vast amounts of opportunity that her forbearers could only imagine. Black women are the chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies, mayors of major cities, Nobel Prize winners, Olympic gold medalists and now a black woman stands tall as the first lady of the United States. The world has changed dramatically since the first Africans were brought to the shores of America. There are black women in positions of power and influence that their ancestors could only dream of.

When Forbes announced the 25 power women of the 2010 midterm elections, Michelle Obama was the only African American woman on the list. She campaigned for numerous Democratic Party candidates during the midterm election season including in key battleground states. In some cases, she became a bigger draw on the campaign trail than the president, hosting events that outsold other events hosted by her president husband.

'Least Partnered Group'

The new millennium black woman has definitely arrived to embrace a new diaspora. Being socialized in a patriarchal society, the selfless humanity of the African American woman has her routinely putting everyone else's priorities above hers. It is difficult to decipher the fact that the African American woman--an African and American cultural treasure--is the least partnered group in the nation.

Black women have had to maneuver between both their racial and gender identities for centuries within the legal and political landscape, since the American legal system both perpetuated and sanctioned racism and sexism. The tumultuous journey began as early as 1641 when Massachusetts made slavery legal, declaring that a child inherited its free or slave status from the mother. In 1662, the Virginia House of Burgesses declared that a child's slave status followed the mother's-- if the mother was not white.

In 1668, Virginia declared that black women should pay taxes, but not white women --whether they were free or not. In 1780, Massachusetts abolished slavery and gave black men, not black women, the right to vote. In later decades, black female abolitionists and women's rights advocates would lobby hard for the passage of both the 14th and 15th Amendments, even though neither amendment gave the right to vote to women.

NAACP Leadership

In 1919, the first chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was Mary White Ovington, a white woman. Ovington incidentally was also a suffragist. Fifty-six years later, Mary Bush Wilson became the first black female board chair of the NAACP in 1975.

Even though women in the United States were granted the right to vote in 1920 by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, many black women were disenfranchised and prevented from voting by legal and other means. These means included but were not limited to the infamous literacy tests and poll taxes. Many black women would have to wait until the passage of the Voting Rights Act decades later to fully enfranchise their voting rights.

There were numerous instances where white women supported the fight for the dignity and inherent rights of black women. One of the most noted was the resignation of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when Marian Anderson was denied the opportunity to perform at DAR's Constitution Hall in 1939 because of her race.

In 1968, black women took their first monumental step into elective office on the federal level when the Honorable Shirley Chisholm was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Since that time, 31 African American women have served in the U.S. Congress.

"Conflict: African American Women and the New Dilemma of Race and Gender Politics" by Cindy Hooper. Copyright © 2012 by Cindy Hooper. Reproduced with permission of ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Cindy Hooper is a veteran of numerous local, state and national political campaigns. She has a master's degree in government from The Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor's degree in political science from Morgan State University. She is a member of the American Political Science Association and the National Women's Studies Association.

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