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Chapter 3 RACE TRUMPS GENDER OR VICE VERSA? Cross Pressures and Deliberate Choices There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad. —Sojourner Truth, History of Woman Suffrage When it was a question of race [I] let the lesser question of sex go. But the white women all go for sex, letting race occupy a minor position. . . . If the nation could handle only one question, [I] would not have the black women put a single straw in the way, if only the men of the race could obtain what they wanted. —Frances E. W. Harper, History of Woman Suffrage Shall we at this time justify the deprivation of the negro of the right to vote because some one else is deprived of that privilege ? I hold that women as well as men have the right to vote, and my heart and my voice go with the movement to extend suffrage to woman. But that question rests upon another basis than that which our right rests. —Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass on Women’s Rights 41 On February 27, 1869, the Fifteenth Amendment passed in the United States Congress. Prior to its passage, Frederick Douglass argued at a meeting of the Equal Rights Association that the ballot was “desirable” for women, but “vital” for black men because women were not as threatened by extreme acts of terror. As Douglass put it so bluntly, “When women because they are women are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have the urgency to obtain the ballot” equal to that of black people in this country (Foner 1976, 32–33). Immediately following this speech, an observer in the audience pointed out that black women were victimized in the same way as just described. Douglass then insisted that black women were so treated on the basis of their race, not sex and that white middle-class women had ways to redress their grievances that were not afforded them (Huggins 1980). The logic behind this argument stressed that black women suffered from mostly the same problems as black men. Unwilling to accept Douglass’s claim that it was the “Negro’s hour” and that universal male suffrage must be secured first, the leadership of the women’s suffrage movement and some of its members became openly hostile toward Douglass (Foner 1976; Huggins 1980; A. Davis 1981). Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt slighted and argued that universal suffrage for women was no less compelling than universal male suffrage. These and other women suffragists who felt just as slighted expressed antiblack sentiment publicly and evolved into factions that eventually voted to disband the Equal Rights Association to form the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. Given the role that women suffragists played in the abolitionist movement, they found it ironic that the vote would be granted to ignorant black male brutes over intelligent and refined white women. In fact, Stanton went so far as to proclaim that “it is better to be the slave of an educated white man, than of a degraded , ignorant black one” and to spearhead the movement to form the National Woman’s Suffrage Association so as to separate herself from the cause of black people (Stanton et al. 1969, 94–95). Those women suffragists who did not feel so slighted 42 Black Feminist Voices in Politics believed that the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted universal male suffrage, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” was a first step toward equal rights for women. Frances Dana Gage, a white middle-class woman suffragist, expressed this sentiment: “Could I with breath defeat the Fifteenth Amendment, I would not do it. That Amendment will let the colored men enter the wide portals of human rights. Keeping them out, suffering as now, would not let me in all the sooner” and thus found the positions of Anthony and Stanton whom she had supported for many years indefensible (Foner 1976, 36). Of...


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