Lecture teaches about the history of voting rights for Black women
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Lecture teaches about the history of voting rights for Black women

USD’s History Department and the Knudson School of Law hosted the Vanguard Voting Rights Lecture March 18.

The lecture was a joint Shell Lecture, which the History Department usually hosts in the fall, and School of Law’s Gunderson Lecture, in honor of Women’s History Month.

The lecturer, Martha Jones, a professor of history and the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor at Johns Hopkins University. Jones is also a legal and cultural historian focusing on the history of Black Americans in democracy and author of “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All” which her lecture is based on.

“Back in August of 2020, now-Vice President Kamala Harris accepted the Democratic nomination, and she explained the political history, out of which her own career, her own ascendancy ultimately to the vice presidency emanated. She invoked six women, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer and Constance Baker Motley,” Jones said. “If you don’t know who those women are, you don’t know enough about Vice President Harris. And so, I’ve written a book that helps you understand the political tradition, out of which she has emerged.”

Jones started her research on this topic in the mid 1990s as part of her graduate studies. However, Jones credits her book also to generations of other historian’s works as well.

“When you peruse the endnotes, what you’ll discover very quickly is three, going on four generations of Black women’s historians, all of whom had contributed work that permits me to tell a story across 200 years. So it is a, in many ways, a reflection of a collective project that has long been committed to recovering Black women’s political history,” Jones said.

Sara Lampert is an associate professor of history and coordinator for the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at USD and the primary planner for the Vanguard Voting Rights Lecture.

“We also have support from, I have a long list, the Center for Diversity in the Office for Diversity. The Women’s Studies program, the university library is also contributing so there are a lot of a lot of different groups on campus helping make this possible,” Lampert said.

Both Jones and Lampert said there are significant challenges Black women and other minorities face when trying to vote today. Awareness of these issues is one of the most important aspects of this lecture.

“We are sitting in March of 2021. And by the last count, I heard there are more than 200 pieces of legislation pending in state houses across this country, all of which aim to continue the disenfranchisement of Americans, including Black American women. And so, we are still in that struggle for voting rights that Black women have been engaged in for a very long time. I don’t think that story’s over at all,” Jones said.

Lampert said the Black women who were central to voting movements in the 19th and 20th century are not often emphasized in secondary education.

“I think it’s important to know about these figures, and to know about their role, and to rethink some of our assumptions about who’s been driving significant changes in American history. I think, it’s in part, a duty of citizens to really understand their, their history. But more broadly, I think it’s important to tell rich and full stories about America,” Lampert said.

Jones’s book was released in September last year and the paperback version will be released in the fall of 2021 with an additional chapter discussing the 2020 election cycle as well as the inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black, Asian American, and woman to hold the nation’s second highest office.