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African American Women and the Vote, 1868-1877

In: Social Issues

Submitted By kelly18
Words 1029
Pages 5
The Radical Reconstruction period from1868 to1877 provided suffrage to the African American community in tremendous ways. This Reconstruction period provided new prospects for the African American community for example, voting, labor, ownership of property, education and restoration of family life. In addition, to providing many opportunities the Radical Reconstruction made it very challenging for African American’s to take advantage of their “freedom”. In this paper my aim is to prove that African American women were relentless individuals, who controlled voting in southern African American communities through the use of their counterparts. Furthermore, African American women overcame the challenges that came along with the opportunities’ that were given during the reconstruction period, they utilized many strategies particularly violent ones. Elsa Barkley Brown article The Labor of Politics, substantially supports my argument. Brown provides numerous testimonies and examples of how African American women manipulated the vote through African American men. Throughout the article Brown uses African American women to emphasize her argument that ex-slaves developed their politics differently from their white Republicans allies. After the Civil War African American’s reconceptualizatize their role to vote in politics and one may wonder how can a group of people who have been recently emancipated do such a thing? Well Brown argues that the Black Richmonders, operated in two different political arenas, an internal and an external one. Brown argues that “within the internal political process women were enfranchised and participated in all public forums—the parades rallies, mass meetings, and conventions themselves” (Holt, pp. 77). However, Brown further argues that it was the State Constitutional Convention, which decided African American men’s and women’s status in the political process external to the African American community. Namely, E.L. Gibson a conservative white delegate, of the republican representative government exemplifies Brown’s argument about the authority of the Constitutional Convention. Gibson argues that “a man might be free and still not have the right to vote” (Holt, pp. 78). He further says that if the right were inherent then it would belong to both sexes and to all from the first moment of existence. Furthermore, Brown states that “in fact, late-nineteenth century assumptions concerning republican representative government required that the majority of people be passive in their exercise of freedom for the proper operation of democracy” (Holt, pp. 78). In contrast, African American women were a prime of example of how individuals were radical about their expressions of democracy. Due to this, African American women faced remarkable amounts of challenges when they tried to participate in the political sphere. “Even though they were excluded from further participation in the Republican meetings by the late 1860s, African American women in South Carolina, Louisiana, and elsewhere were still attending the meetings in the late 1870s”. These women were definitely not passive at the meetings they attended. Instead, there was always an expected political uproar and they were majority of the times initiated by African American women. “While the men participated in the meeting, the women guarded the guns—thus serving as the protectors of the meeting.” Moreover, when violent situations occurred during the reconstruction period African American women were reported “in arms, carrying axes or hatchets in their hands hanging down at their sides, their aprons or dresses half-concealing the weapons” (Holt, pp. 81). Equally important Brown conceptualizes the vote as a franchise. “The fact that only men had been granted the vote did not mean that only men should exercise that vote”. Therefore, African American women utilized many strategies to exercise the vote. One strategy was that men needed their wives to accompany them to the polls to vote. The purpose of this was to make sure that their husbands voted for the Republican Party. During the Reconstruction period The Republican Party had almost control of policymaking in Congress. Another strategy that was used by African American women was sexual absentness. African American women were highly encouraged by the Black republican politicians to abstain from sexual relations with any man who voted for the Democratic Party. “These examples all suggest that African American women and men understood the vote as a collective, not an individual, possession and, furthermore, that African American women, unable to cast a separate vote, viewed African American men’s vote as equally as theirs” (Holt, pp. 82).
“Unlike many white middle-class women, southern black women in the immediate post-Civil War era did not base their political participation in justifications of superior female morality or public motherhood. They did not need to; their own cultural, economic, and political traditions provided rationale enough—autonomy was not simply personal" (Holt, pp. 84). Consequently, I chose to focus my paper on African American women’s role in politics because I felt after reading Brown’s article that they were the key players in achieving the vote for the African American community. Furthermore, Brown’s article Labor Politics reveals the struggles that the African American community faced in the political sphere. “Ultimately northern and southern white men may have denied African American women the freedom fully to shape their own lives in the post-Civil War era” (Holt, pp. 84). While this is true, African American women used this challenge to achieve the vote for their community. They utilized their men to make sure the vote was taken advantage of. While Brown does a great job providing explicit examples of African American operating in the political sphere the article does lack examples of some instances where bearing arms may not have been the wisest strategy to use. Brown’s Labor of Politics, conceptualizes the vote as a franchise and therefore gives the impression that all African American women in the south were aggressive political activists. What about those women who weren’t so relentless and were passive? If African American women were so influential in the political arena and granted the vote for their community, then how they could they not get the vote for their gender? However, Brown articulately argues how African American women have taken the struggles and used different initiatives to overcome those struggles. As a result, the African American community can truly appreciate their freedom, and one benefit of that is their right to vote.

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