Two Books on Black Suffragists | Social Science Reviews

Jones writes an insightful book that shines light on Black suffragists underexplored in history. Cahill shows how women of color needed to continue to fight even after 1920 to earn the right to vote.

Vanguardredstar Jones, Martha S. Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. Basic. Sept. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781541618619. $30. HIST
Beginning with her own history as a descendant of enslaved people, Jones (history, Johns Hopkins Univ.; Birthright Citizens) shares stories of women in her family who created paths to political power as freedom did not lead to liberty or dignity. This standout social history shows how the 19th Amendment did not guarantee Black women the right to vote—state laws, including literary tests, poll taxes, and restrictions on descendants of enslaved people, were implemented to suppress turnout. Jones masterfully outlines how Black women used the pen, pulpit, and podium to share information in the 19th and 20th centuries, and how teaching each other how to read and write was the greatest form of resistance. Moving chapters follow journalist Mary Ann Shadd Cary, poet and orator Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, educators Charlotte Forten Grimké and Mary Church Terrell, and writers Harriet Jacobs and Anna Julia Cooper, among others, as they sought to link voting rights to civil rights. Notably, Jones recounts how these women, and others, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, faced danger for their visibility while often being ignored by white suffragists. VERDICT A necessary, insightful book that shines light on Black women underexplored in history. Jones writes narrative nonfiction at its best.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

Recasting the VoteCahill, Cathleen D. Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement. Univ. of North Carolina. Nov. 2020. 376p. ISBN 9781469659329. $32.50 HIST
Written to coincide with the centennial of the 19th Amendment, this important book reminds us that the familiar stories of women’s suffrage are woefully incomplete. Using archival sources and a plethora of other primary materials, Cahill (history, Pennsylvania State Univ.) builds her narrative around six unheralded female activists of color: Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, Zitkala-Sa, Laura Cornelius Kellogg, Carrie Williams Clifford, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, and Nina Otero-Warren. Compiling much more than a collective biography, however, she interweaves their histories with those of better-known suffragists, including Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell, and places their activities within the traditional trajectory of the movement from the late 19th century on. In discussing the lives of these six women, Cahill traces their different approaches to suffrage, and explains how they worked with predominantly white organizations but also fought outside them. The most important theme is how the ultimate achievement of suffrage meant different things to different groups, and how women of color needed to continue to fight even after 1920 to earn the right to vote. VERDICT An essential work; highly recommended for scholars of the period and general readers interested in women’s history.—Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ

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