Vanguard How Black women broke barriers, won the vote, and insisted on equality for all

Martha S. Jones

Book - 2020

"According to conventional wisdom, American women's campaign for the vote began with the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. The movement was led by storied figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. But this women's movement was an overwhelmingly white one, and it secured the constitutional right to vote for white women, not for all women. In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha Jones offers a history of African American women's political lives in America, recounting how they fought for, won, and used the right to the ballot and how they fought against both racism and sexism. From 1830s Boston to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and beyond to Shirley Chisholm, Stacey Abrams, and Kamala Harris, Jones excavates the lives and work of Black women who, although in many cases suffragists, were never single-issue activists. She recounts the lives of Maria Stewart, the first American woman to speak about politics before a mixed audience of men and women; African Methodist Episcopal preacher Jarena Lee; Reconstruction-era advocate for female suffrage Frances Ellen Watkins Harper; Boston abolitionist, religious leader, and women's club organizer Eliza Ann Gardner; and other hidden figures who were pioneers for both gender and racial equality. Revealing the ways Black women remained independent in their ideas and their organization, Jones shows how Black women were again and again the American vanguard of women's rights, setting the pace in the quest for justice and collective liberation. In the twenty-first century, Black women's power at the polls and in politics is evident. Vanguard reveals that this power is not at all new, but is instead the culmination of two centuries of dramatic struggle"--

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Instructional and educational works
Creative nonfiction
New York, NY : Basic Books, Hachette Book Group 2020.
First edition
Physical Description
339 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Martha S. Jones (author)
  • Introduction: our mothers' gardens
  • Daughters of Africa, awake!
  • The cause of the slave, as well as of women
  • To be black and female
  • One great bundle of humanity
  • Make us a power
  • Lifting as we climb
  • Amendment
  • Her weapon of moral defense
  • A way to express themselves... and make change
  • Conclusion: candidates of the people.
Review by Choice Review

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Jones (Johns Hopkins Univ.), a historian and legal scholar, spotlights over 200 years of Black women's political history and their struggle for the ballot in Vanguard. From her very own great-great-grandmother Susan Davis's stories of voting to Stacy Abrams, Jones rigorously details how Black women created a movement and their own "spaces from which they began to tell their own stories of what it meant to call for women's rights." Hidden behind the banner of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the white feminist women's suffrage crusade were multitudes of Black women pushing for liberation in churches, organizations, military stations, clubs, benevolent societies, and institutions of higher learning. Women such as Maria Stewart, Jarena Lee, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Anna Julia Cooper, Hallie Quinn Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, Pauli Murray, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, and Kamala Harris all dealt with the brutal sting of racism and sexism, yet, linked by their shared history, leaned on one another to move forward. Despite the long-standing social injustices Black women face, they continue to struggle to secure equality and dignity for all persons, challenging the status quo. Vanguard offers a new and holistic history of the women's movement in the US. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. --Amy O Yeboah, Howard University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by Library Journal Review

Beginning with her own history as a descendant of enslaved people, Jones (history, Johns Hopkins Univ.; Birthright Citizens) shares stories of women in her family who created paths to political power as freedom did not lead to liberty or dignity. This standout social history shows how the 19th Amendment did not guarantee Black women the right to vote--state laws, including literary tests, poll taxes, and restrictions on descendants of enslaved people, were implemented to suppress turnout. Jones masterfully outlines how Black women used the pen, pulpit, and podium to share information in the 19th and 20th centuries, and how teaching each other how to read and write was the greatest form of resistance. Moving chapters follow journalist Mary Ann Shadd Cary, poet and orator Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, educators Charlotte Forten Grimké and Mary Church Terrell, and writers Harriet Jacobs and Anna Julia Cooper, among others, as they sought to link voting rights to civil rights. Notably, Jones recounts how these women, and others, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, faced danger for their visibility while often being ignored by white suffragists. VERDICT A necessary, insightful book that shines light on Black women underexplored in history. Jones writes narrative nonfiction at its best.--Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Johns Hopkins history professor Jones turns in a searching portrait of African American women who agitated for voting rights over generations. Born into slavery in 1840 in Kentucky, Susan Davis--the author's great-great-grandmother--learned a valuable truth: "without the vote, Black Americans had to build other routes to political power." During the Reconstruction Era, in Davis' case, this involved building women's clubs to consolidate political power. She lived to see passage of the 19th Amendment, but that constitutional guarantee did not stop white Kentuckians from attempting to suppress the Black vote. Other activists adopted various tactics to press their cases, from Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back of a bus to the sit-ins at lunch counters throughout the South. As Jones writes, the truth of Davis' conviction endured: "The women of my family, like so many Black women, constructed their political power with one eye on the polls and the other on organizing, lobbying, and institution building." Naturally, they met opposition from Whites--and often from Black men, who, notes the author, were glad to accept women as helpmeets in political situations but expected them to hold subsidiary roles. In many instances, Black women neatly sidestepped racism; in the case of her great-grandmother, Jones writes, "she would link arms with white women when they shared her sense that American women, even after the Nineteenth Amendment, had a distance to go before they realized their full influence upon politics and policy." In the end, though, many of the voting rights and civil rights activists realized that they had to build their own movement, cultivating a strong emergent leadership that included lawyers, politicians, and the first Black woman to serve as a priest in the Episcopal Church. The work continues today: Jones' sharp chronicle closes with Stacey Abrams, the Georgia politician who wages a constant campaign against voter suppression meant to keep Black voters away from the ballot box. Highly charged, absorbing reading and most timely in the era of renewed advocacy for civil rights. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.