Suffrage and Racial Tension

Ida B. Wells - New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, Portrait Collection.

Ida B. Wells

New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, Portrait Collection.

On March 3, 1913, a day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration as president, over 5,000 women marched on Washington.  In light of racial tension, organizer Alice Paul had quietly discouraged the participation of African American women.  Those who did arrive in the capital were told to walk at the back of the parade.  Ida B. Wells, a journalist and anti-lynching activist, refused.  She demanded to “march under the Illinois banner” and by mid-parade had joined the white women in her rightful unit.  She was accompanied by members of the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, recently founded by Wells as the first African American women’s organization of its kind.  Delta Sigma Theta sorority from Howard University, a traditionally black university in Washington D.C., also turned out for the event.

"Will the Federal Suffrage Amendment Complicate the Race Problem?"

"Will Federal Suffrage Complicate the Race Problem?" Handbill James F. Willard Collection / COU:1730:02:035:001

Southern states opposed women’s suffrage on the grounds that it would further empower African Americans.  The 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, enfranchised African American men.  It was feared that extending the vote to women would threaten white dominance in the South.  This handbill, circulated between 1915 and 1917, uses census data to argue that, with the exception of Mississippi and South Carolina, women’s suffrage would proportionally decrease the impact of the African American vote.  Note that Tennessee, the state which cast the decisive 36th vote for a women’s suffrage amendment in 1920, had a population of white women which far outnumbered the total number of African Americans.