by Benita Twillie, IFT Professional Support Staff
Recently, I have read a lot about the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave American women the right to vote. I have been thinking about the scores of elections that I have voted in over the years, starting with that first wasted vote for John Anderson in 1980. Ahh, youth!
Growing up, I remember loud but good-natured conversations over family dinners with my parents, aunts, and uncles about which candidates were best for working people, or whether the ERA would really help Black women. They were part of the Great Migration - the millions of Black Americans who took a leap of faith when they moved away from the tyranny and oppression of the Jim Crow South toward the promise of good union jobs and untold opportunities in the North. While that promise often proved elusive (who knew there were racists in Chicago?) they worked hard to create a great life for my sister and me. They taught us from an early age the importance of being active in our communities and that one of our house rules was that we voted in every election – whether for president of the United States or the local library board – voting was a requirement.
They taught us that we were only one generation removed from relatives who were denied their right to vote. Unconstitutional Grandfather Clauses , poll taxes, literacy tests, and sheer intimidation tactics prevented my parents and their parents from voting. I have passed those lessons to my children, treating Election Day as a holiday when they were young. I took them into the booth with me and explained my reasons for selecting each candidate (don’t want a repeat of my John Anderson error!). Afterwards, we would breakfast at one of our favorite diners before I would drop them off at school. Now that they are grown-up, veteran voters, they send me selfies with their “I voted” stickers to show that they are still following our house rules.
As we mark the 100th anniversary of women voting, I am reminded that Black women were not always welcome allies in the suffrage movement. The southern sisters of that movement would not support voting rights for Black women when Black men were being denied access to the polls. So while I am mindful of all of the remarkable women who fought for the passing of the 19th Amendment, I am especially grateful for the fierce, amazing Black women like Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells who fought to ensure that my ancestors were included. Every time I cast a vote, I honor them along with civil rights pioneers like Fannie Lou Hamer and Shirley Chisolm. Now, I am be inspired by women like Stacy Abrams and Alicia Garza who fight current day voter suppression. But most of all, when I cast my vote, I will honor the house rules set by my mom, Helen McKenzie: In this house, we vote!