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"Conversation about Suffragists and Race" JAN 2019

Former Co-President Carol Davis

After a kerfuffle about the attire LWVOC members would wear in the Orlando Citrus Parade in December, the History Committee stepped up to sponsor “A Conversation About Suffragists and Race” Jan. 24 at the Unitarian Church in Orlando.

The women in the parade ended up wearing white tops and black pants after there were objections about long white skirts being akin to KKK robes.

In addition, there have long been discussions about black women being marginalized during the suffrage movement in the early 20th century. An example cited in a Jan. 20 column by Ginia Bellafante in the New York Times had to do with a women’s march in 1913 at the time of Woodrow Wilson’s first inauguration – white organizers, Bellafante noted, forced black women to march behind their white colleagues.

A power point presentation by past LWVOC president Carol Davis at the Unitarian looked at events leading to the formation of the League almost 100 years ago, including the involvement of such African American notables as writer Ida B. Wells, Howard University professor Mary Church Terrell and Underground Railroad founder Harriet Tubman.

And, as Davis noted, the great writer-philosopher Frederick Douglass was the only black man present during the famous Seneca Falls, N.Y. , women’s rights convention in 1848. A founding mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was a close friend of Douglass’, and both Stanton and another early suffragist, Susan B. Anthony, were conductors on Tubman’s Underground Railroad.

However, one early comment by noted suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt disturbed many African Americans. She was quoted in the Times as saying “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by woman’s suffrage.” Context: She was trying to get as many Southern states as she could to support suffrage.

During a discussion period, former League president Michele Levy said “There were racists [in the past] and we have to own it.” Other audience members suggested ways to promote diversity, including building coalitions and offering discounts to people who can’t afford dues or Hot Topics.

The LWVOC is promoting diversity, and the national League has made diversity a priority, issuing this statement last August: “As we continue to grow our movement, we acknowledge our privilege and must use our power to raise the voices of those who haven’t always had a seat at the table. We have embraced a new diversity, equity and inclusion policy.”