On America’s first Election Day to feature a woman candidate at the top of a major party’s ticket, people lined up by the hundreds to honor the historical moment by putting their “I Voted” stickers on the grave of legendary suffragist Susan B. Anthony.
But as some black feminists were quick to note, “women’s suffrage” didn’t come equally for all women after the 19th Amendment was ratified, since black women still faced substantial barriers to voting due to Jim Crow laws. What’s more, the women’s suffrage movement was at times explicitly racist and often excluded black women.
White feminists, I'll ask one thing today. Remind your sistren that not all women gained the right to vote in 1920 #ElectionDay— J.A.B. (@MsJamilaAisha) November 8, 2016
“I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” - #SusanBAnthony— Leslie Mac (@LeslieMac) November 8, 2016
I'd put my voting sticker on Ida B. Wells's grave.— roxane gay (@rgay) November 8, 2016
Mikki Kendall tweeted a list of activists she credits with helping secure black women’s right to vote:
I owe my right to vote to Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Mary Cary, Nannie Burroughs, Frances Harper, & Daisy Lampkin.— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) November 8, 2016
I vote because of Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Dorothy Height, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Sales, Diane Nash, Daisy Bates, & Septima Clark— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) November 8, 2016
But let's be clear, don't you ever in your life give credit for Black women voting to the white women who wanted them to stay in the back.— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) November 8, 2016
Twitter users quickly started encouraging voters to visit the graves of black women — from black women’s suffrage and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells to abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth to Shirley Chisholm, the first woman and first African American to run for president in the United States.
Throw some stickers on grave of Sojourner Truth. Ain't no more daring feminist, born into slavery, freedom fighter. Ain't I a WOMAN!— Monie (@MonieTalks_1) November 8, 2016
Please put stickers on Shirley Chisholm's grave. She's buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Buffalo, New York. https://t.co/6vZnMdyu5e— Evette Dionne (@freeblackgirl) November 8, 2016
In Wells’s case, some voters got a chance to adorn her grave before the cemetery in Chicago she was buried in closed at 4:30 pm.
Ida B. Wells getting the love on Election Day in Chicago!! pic.twitter.com/GGG2p4sV43— Dira Sudis (@dsudis) November 8, 2016
And for those who couldn’t make it to Wells’s grave in person, there was an outpouring of virtual support:
As my colleague Victoria Massie explained, this difficult history is one reason why many black women feel deeply ambivalent about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Yes, it’s historic to elect the first woman president — but historic for whom?
“The election of a white woman to the highest office doesn't say a whole lot about my feminism,” Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst at Rewire and co-host of This Week in Blackness Prime, told Vox in July. “Representation absolutely matters. But it's a sticky wicket when you're a black woman. Obama's candidacy felt far more momentous to me than Clinton's.”
Less than a century after the 19th Amendment passed, granting women the right to vote, Hillary Clinton is the first woman presidential nominee of a major party. If she wins, it will indeed be historic.
When we celebrate “historic” moments, though, there can be a temptation to set aside the messier parts of history that might interfere with the celebration. But it’s important to learn from those moments — to make the celebration more meaningful, and to make sure we don’t leave so many people out when the next chapter of the history books is written.