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The race question divided the woman suffrage movement before and after the passage of the Woman Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Jim Crow laws enacted in the 1880s and 90s prevented black men from voting in the South, and many white southerners opposed woman suffrage because they opposed even the nominal enfranchisement of black women. Fearing the loss of support of white southerners, white suffragists did not welcome black women into their ranks before 1920, and black suffragists maintained their own suffrage organizations. Because the Nineteenth Amendment granted suffrage to all women, after 1920 black women in the South and their supporters in the North challenged the exclusion of black women from the right to vote. Perhaps because she drew much of her support from white southerners, Alice Paul, head of the National Woman's Party and one of the most radical suffrage leaders, publicly advocated the right for all women to vote, yet before and after 1920, her actions often contradicted this view.
To examine hostility to black women within the National Woman's Party and to consider the strategies that challenged that hostility.
Ask students to read the letter from Walter White to Mary Church Terrell, 14 March 1919. How did White describe his interactions with Southern whites? What was his reaction to the report that Alice Paul had said, "all this talk of Negro women voting in South Carolina was nonsense?" What did White believe was Paul's motivation for making this statement?
Next have students read the letter from Florence Kelly to Mary White Ovington, 22 December 1920; and Letters from Emma Wold, December and January 1921. Why was Florence Kelly urging Alice Paul to invite Mary Talbert to speak at the National Woman's Party Convention? What was Emma Wold's official response to this request? What do you think about Wold's assertion that anti-lynching was a "racial" cause, not a "feminist" one? Florence Kelley felt another reason lay behind the National Woman's Party refusal. What was that? How do you feel about Paul's strategy? Do you see any connections between what White experienced in the South and the debate within the National Woman's Party concerning whether to invite Talbert to speak?
Writing assignment: Ask students to examine another moment in National Woman's Party history when the organization came under attack for racism in a 3-5 page paper. Have them base their analysis on three documents which address the exclusion of African Americans from a ceremony at the grave of Inez Milholland, a white woman who had led a suffrage parade in 1913: "Race Issue Hits Feminist Party," 17-18 August 1924; Walter White Telegram, 18 August 1924; Letter from Alice Paul to Heywood Broun, 26 August 1924. Ask students to consider the following questions: Why were African-American leaders upset by the ceremony at Milholland's grave? How did Paul defend the actions of National Woman's Party members? What continuities or differences were there between this incident and the earlier exclusion of African-American speakers from the National Woman's Party convention in 1921?
For Further Exploration :
Ask students to examine the earlier close connections between anti-slavery and women's rights activism and the seeds of the split between some segments of the woman's rights movement and the anti-slavery movement by reading three letters from women's rights leaders just prior to and just after the Civil War: letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, 26 December 1865; letter from Lucretia Mott to Elizabeth Neal Gay, 7 May 1858; letter from Lucretia Mott to Martha Coffin Wright, 17 April 1865. Ask them to evaluate how Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton differed in their responses to the enfranchisement of black men. Do you find that Mott and Stanton offered different perspectives on African Americans? Do you see similarities between the debate over African-American male suffrage in the 1860s and the controversies in the National Woman's Party over African-American women's formal participation?