Suffragette, a historical drama depicting the women's voting-rights movement in early 20th-century Britain, caused controversy for including the quote "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave" on T-shirts its white female cast wore in promotional materials.
Originally said by prominent British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep), the quote whitewashes the movement's history of racism.
In the United States, the 15th Amendment to the Constitution gave black men (but not white women) the right to vote—at least in theory. In reality, however, many black Americans—particularly in Southern states—could not fully exercise that right until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. And although the 19th Amendment technically gave all women the right to vote in 1920, black women's voting rights weren't protected; indeed, many were excluded from the suffragist movement.
To highlight the efforts of black suffragists, NTRSCTN has compiled the following list of women of color who fought on the front lines—even as their work continues to go unrecognized.
Sojourner Truth, a formerly enslaved abolitionist and suffragist, gave us one of the earliest critiques of whitewashed womanhood in her famous speech, “Aint’ I A Woman?” at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. In it, Truth describes subtle ways her racial identity impacts how she experiences womanhood:
And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?