Virtual panel held to discuss suffrage, Black women’s suffrage and voter suppression

Dr. Christina Chan-Park, Dr. Peaches Henry, and Dr. Andrea Turpin host an event via Zoom to discuss the history of women's suffrage. Ava Sanborn | Photographer

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

To recognize the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, a virtual panel was held on Tuesday, National Voter Registration Day. Speakers discussed the history of women’s suffrage, Black women’s suffrage and the way voter suppression continues.

The W.R. Poage Legislative Library, the Institute for Oral History and the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Baylor partnered with the Waco National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to host the event.

Dr. Andrea Turpin, associate professor of history at Baylor, Dr. Peaches Henry, president of the Waco NAACP and assistant professor of English at McLennan Community College and Dr. Christina Chan-Park, associate librarian for Baylor Libraries and president of the Waco League of Women Voters, spoke at the panel.

Henry said she was approached to speak at the panel in order to talk about the contributions of Black women toward the passing of the 19th Amendment.

“What is less known about the history of the women’s movement is that Black women were a part of the movement from the very beginning,” Henry said.

This event also supported the ALL IN Commitment from President Livingstone in June to accomplish 100% student voter registration and participation.

To start the event, Dr. Stephen Sloan, associate professor of history & director of the Institute for Oral History, introduced the speakers and discussed their experience in research and teaching.

Dr. Turpin spoke first and gave the historical background for the 19th Amendment.

Turpin said that as the nation became more democratic, voting grew from land-owning men to free men. Women, however, were under a law called Coverture in which they were under either their husband or father and did not have control of their own earnings. She said the abolitionist movement then attracted many men and women.

“They couldn’t actually advocate as much as they wanted to because they were women,” Turpin said.

Turpin then discussed the Seneca Falls Convention and the way that the Civil War put a hold on advocacy for women’s rights. She discussed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and the limitations on women to vote.

After freed formerly-enslaved people were given the right to vote, she said the focus was then put back on women’s suffrage.

The older women and the younger women went about advocating for this in different ways and the group split. These disagreements, however, brought a lot of different women into the movement.

“Over time, more and more women, and some male allies began to support them.” Turpin said.

The women brought enough people on board to pass the 19th Amendment.

Next, Dr. Peaches Henry discussed the ways that the fight for women’s suffrage omitted the work of women of color.

“When it came time to write the history of the movement, they white-washed women of color out of the history,” Henry said.

Henry said that African American women were fighting for their rights as Black women, a struggle that is different from that of white feminists. She discussed Sojourner Truth’s speech in Akron, Ohio at a Women’s Rights Convention and her famous words “Ain’t I a woman?”

Henry also discussed Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and many other African American suffragettes who worked alongside white suffragettes such as Susan B. Anthony but had to call them out for their racism.

She discussed the ways that they wrote their own newspapers and went on their own tours to further this movement. She said that when they were pushed to the side, they began the National Association of Colored Women and National American Women Suffrage Association.

“They see themselves as planting trees that they may never sit beneath, but that future generations will sit beneath.” Henry said.

In addition, Henry discussed Ida B. Wells as one of the founders for the NAACP in 1909 and her movement to co-found the first suffrage movement in Chicago called the Alpha Suffrage Club.

“These women are not the only women,” Henry said. “There are more women who worked with the suffrage groups until the passage of the 19th amendment and into the 20th and 21st century.”

She also discussed the need for the Voting Rights Act in 1965 which banned the poll taxes and literacy tests that were put in place to suppress the freedman’s vote.

The Voting Rights Act also instituted federal oversight of voter registration against violence and suppression of the African American vote. After this, there was a growth in the number of African American men and women voting and holding office. She said that there are still laws designed to suppress the minority vote across the south.

Dr. Chan-Park then discussed the goal of the League of Women Voters and its history prior to the 19th Amendment being passed. She then focused on voter registration, how individuals can go about registering and the history behind it.

“At one time, if you were a land-owning white man, you could just show up and vote and nobody asked any questions,” she said.

Voter registration is done at the state level, and each state has different laws regarding it. Chan-Park said that at one time, less than 1% of people who were able to vote were actually registered and many people saw women’s suffrage was a way to dilute the minority vote.

As a Chinese American, Chan-Park also discussed the obstacles against the vote of Chinese Americans in the early 20th century in the form of the Immigration Act of 1824 and the Chinese Exclusion Act.

She then discussed the obstacles that Latin Americans, African Americans and Indigenous people also faced in the 20th century.

Chan-Park also noted that the residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands cannot vote for president despite being U.S. citizens.

An audience Q&A involving questions about the Equal Rights Amendment, how to inform others about female inequality and the state’s role in voting concluded the event.

Henry said that she hopes people recognize the importance of their vote and exercise that right.

“We want people to recognize that we are in a very consequential election in 2020,” Henry said. “All the way from the president down to the school board elections across the state and the nation. These are very impactful on our lives.”

Henry encouraged people to register and prepare to vote but also to become advocates in their own circles.

“It is very difficult for someone in Waco, Texas to influence someone in Alaska,” Henry said. “But it is very easy for someone in Waco, Texas to impact someone in their own circle in Waco, Texas.”

She encourages people to get five other people registered between now and Oct. 5. Turpin also recommended that the public gets involved with the League of Women Voters or the local chapter of the NAACP. Turpin said that we don’t always appreciate our right to vote.

“The generation of suffragists who campaigned for women’s right to vote, some of them literally starved themselves in prison, on our behalf, as their descendants to be able to vote,” Turpin said. “So taking seriously the sacrifice that was made by people like that so that we could have a say in our government and enacting that vote.”