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How Black Women Fought Racism and Sexism for the Right to Vote

African American women played a significant and sometimes overlooked role in the struggle to gain the vote.

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African American women played a significant and sometimes overlooked role in the struggle to gain the vote.

The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 and barred states from denying women the right to vote, but that victory was not shared by all.

African-American women across the South were still disenfranchised by determined segregationists, who used a variety of tactics to keep them from the polls, including state laws, poll taxes and literacy tests.

As a result, many of these women would not even have a chance to cast a vote until the 1960s, and then only after a long and protracted fight by the civil rights movement.

Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, and Septima Clark were among the many African American women who played a central role in that movement. They ran programs to educate potential voters, marched, and were often jailed and sometimes beaten for seeking the Constitutional right to vote in a segregated state.

Their struggle was heard when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed many barriers to voting and placed counties with a history of discrimination under federal oversight.

The impact on voter registration was soon evident. By 1968, African American voter registration rates in 11 Southern states increased 50 percent from 1964. And more Black voters eventually led to the election of more Black candidates to local, state, and national offices.

But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the voting rights act that provided federal monitoring of counties with a history of discriminatory voting practices.

That led many states to adopt stricter voting procedures, such as voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect African American and Hispanic voters.

African American women again responded, participating in voter education and registration groups, and made clear that the right to vote still remains a fight for many.