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The National Woman's Party and Suffrage for African-American Women

Document 7

Alice Paul Pulls the Strings

By Freda Kirchwey

       A delegation of sixty women sent by colored women's organizations in fourteen States arrived in Washington several days before the convention. They requested an interview with Alice Paul so that they might take up with the question of the disenfranchisement of the women of their race. They were told Miss Paul was too busy to see them. They said they would wait till she had time. Finally, grudgingly, she yielded. The colored women presented their case in the form of a dignified memorial -- which read as follows:

       We have come here as members of various organizations and from different sections representing the five million colored women of this country. We are deeply appreciative of the heroic devotion of the National Woman's Party to the women's suffrage movement and of the tremendous sacrifices made under your leadership in securing the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment . . . .

       The colored women of this country . . . know the value of the ballot, if honestly used, to right the wrongs of any class. Knowing this, they have also come today to call your attention to the flagrant violations of the intent and purposes of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in the elections of 1920. These violations occurred in the Southern States, where is to be found the great mass of colored women . . . .

       The National Woman's Party stands in the forefront of the organizations that have undergone all the pains of travail to bring into existence the Nineteenth Amendment. We can not then believe that you will permit this amendment to be so distorted in its interpretation that it shall lose its power and effectiveness. Five million women in the United States can not be denied their rights without all the women of the United States feeling the effect of that denial. No women are free until all are free.

       Therefore, we are assembled to ask that you will use your influence to have the convention of the National Woman's Party appoint a special committee to ask Congress for an investigation of the violations of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in the election of 1920.

       Miss Paul was indifferent to this appeal and resented the presence of the delegation. Their chance of being heard at the convention was gone. A Southern organizer told the one active supporter of the colored women . . . that the Woman's Party was pledged not to raise the race issue in the South; that this was the price it paid for ratification.

       The attitude of Alice Paul and her supporters toward these disturbers of the peace . . . was the attitude of all established authorities. "Why do these people harass us?" asked Miss Paul. "Why do they want to spoil our convention?" The answer, that never occurred to her, was this: "For the very same reason that made you disturb the peace and harass the authorities in your peculiarly effective and irritating way: because they want to further the cause they believe in."

-- Excerpts from Freda Kirchwey, "Alice Paul
Pulls the Strings," The Nation, 2 March 1921

10. How did African-American women want the National Woman's Party to help them?

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11. According to Kirchwey, how did Alice Paul respond?

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