On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, We Still Have Work To Do

by HRC Staff

Written by: Rebecca Hershey, HRC Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Director

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment (ratified on August 18).

Between celebratory articles, references by political candidates and laudatory live webcasts over the past week, it might seem like information overload. By now, it might seem we’ve said all there is to say about the trailblazers for women’s voting rights: well-known stars of history such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, lauded Black suffragists such as Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, other women of color whom many Americans are just coming to recognize as voting rights leaders in their own right like Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Marie Louise Bouttineau Baldwin and Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren, and queer women suffragists like Molly Dewson, Alice Dunbar Nelson, and Carrie Chapman Catt. These women fought for the 19th Amendment, although it did not grant them the right to vote.

By now, we should all be able to vote. By now, we should all be free. But the 19th Amendment was not enough to secure voting rights — or freedom — for all. Because, in reality, the amendment only applied to white women and it would be decades before Black, Indigenous and other women of color had the right to vote. It would not be until 1943 when Asian American women could vote, 1948 for Native American women, and under voter suppression tactics such as poll taxes and life-threatening conditions, Black women and others were systematically disenfranchised until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. And in communities across America right now, citizens are being denied the recognition of full citizenship: denied the right to vote and denied access to voting.

Historical commemorations are fraught with these contradictions, especially for Black women, Indigenous people, transgender and non-binary people, Black people and people of color and in communities where full voting rights, full citizenship and equal access to basic fundamental rights and freedoms are not yet realized. Knowing this, we honor the monumental contributions and the rightful place in history that suffragists deserve and were too long denied while we engage in our own battles for full enfranchisement, learning from their fight — which seemed at that time a hopeless effort to reach an insurmountable goal.

Now, as the country prepares for the election of a lifetime, the passage of the 19th Amendment is an opportunity to revere those who stepped up to fight and connect their bravery to those who are on the front lines of the fight for voting rights today. There are leaders like Raquel Willis leading the present-day fight to protect Black transgender rights and lives n; Waikinya Clanton, working from within the political infrastructure to increase the visibility of disenfranchisement across the country and shift the strategy in the direction of Black women’s political power; and Stacey Abrams, mobilizing thousands to fight voter suppression across the country.

Looking back over the past 100 years of civil rights progress is a reminder that strong movements are built one relationship at a time, one battle at a time. Recognizing women who were marginalized heroes in the fight for voting rights is a reminder that we must tell our stories ourselves in real time. Putting the spotlight on current trailblazers reminds us that there is still so much work to be done to protect the vote for those who are disenfranchised. Until all of us are free, none of us are free. Regardless of your identity, your life and your freedom depend on the success of the movement for Black and queer liberation.