VOICES: Celebrate the 19th Amendment, but recognize where it fell short

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 at 10:30 AM
VOICES: Celebrate the 19th Amendment, but recognize where it fell short by Hazel Modlin
Photo: Element5 Digital from Pexels

On Aug. 18, Americans came together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, also known as the amendment that gave American women the right to vote.  

This moment was hard won — built upon the backs of strong women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, and countless others. They fought for women’s suffrage: a century-long battle through lectures, marches, lobbying efforts, acts of civil disobedience, and voting illegally.

On this same August day, U.S. President Donald Trump surprisingly pardoned Susan B. Anthony from crimes such as voting illegally. This act would then be declined by the Susan B. Anthony Museum, who believe pardoning her actions would go against what Anthony, and the rest of these women, had fought against in order to achieve their desired goal: to be treated as equals to their male counterparts. They believed the solution began with the right to vote.  

While these women did eventually make the government hear their voices and pass the 19th Amendment, they were faced with a harsh reality. The amendment was only a step forward in the fight for equality; it was not the end. Despite claiming to give “American women” the right to vote, only white women fell under that category in 1920. Chinese women in the U.S. were not able to vote at this time due to being barred from citizenship thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was not solved until the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952. Native American women, and men for that matter, were unable to vote until Utah finally removed laws against them after the court cases Harrison v. Laveen and Trujillo v. Garley in 1965, where a Native American man sued the state of New Mexico for denying him the right to vote. And Black women and men alike were essentially barred from voting; in 1940, according to the ACLU, only “3% of eligible African Americans in the South were registered to vote.” Jim Crow laws, including literacy tests and poll taxes, had to be stripped away through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

One of the major platforms of the Black Lives Matter movement is the desire to stop white-washing our history. Instead of being told the 19th Amendment granted the right to vote to white women, we are instead told it applied to “American women.” This provides a problem; in American society, we are told to learn from our past mistakes. We place value on the idea of overcoming hardships and coming through a difficult experience as a changed person. How can the U.S. learn from mistakes, if we’re not being entirely honest about our past? People in power are especially willing to ignore certain aspects of history.  

The progress that women made through the 19th Amendment was certainly an important milestone in our history, but it's equally important to realize that this victory was not shared by Chinese, Native American, and Black women, among others living in the U.S.

Even today, there are still some people who cannot vote in American elections despite being an American citizen. In 2000, the Supreme Court decided that citizens living in Puerto Rico, despite being declared as American citizens, would not be allowed to vote in presidential elections under Articles II and XX of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, because it is technically a U.S. territory. This also applies to the territories of Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Also, many states have laws in effect that take away certain voting rights from those with felony (and sometimes misdemeanor) convictions. And on Aug. 22, Tennessee Republican governor Bill Lee signed a bill attempting to hand out harsher punishments for recent protestors, including the loss of their voting rights if they spend time in jail as a result of participating in these events.   

If America is ever going to be able to work toward real equality, we need to address white-washing in our history, while understanding the realities of the 19th Amendment. And of course, we must grant voting rights to even more of these deprived groups.

Tags: voices, voting

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