Skip to the content

Race and Rights

African American women were not always welcome in suffragist circles. They formed their own social networks and clubs to aid the poor and provide education. In 1896, this activism led to the formation of the National Association of Colored Women under the leadership of Mary Church Terrell, taking the motto “Lifting as we climb.”

Although NAWSA failed at securing a national suffrage amendment, the group found some success in securing the right to vote on a state-by-state basis. But this state’s rights strategy willingly sacrificed African American women’s rights in the South. NAWSA generally avoided association with National Association of Colored Women.

Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1912. However, Wilson did not declare support for woman suffrage, so the Congressional Committee of NAWSA, led by Alice Paul, decided to upstage his inauguration with a National Suffrage Parade in 1913.

The parade was viewed as a triumph even as the women had to push through angry crowds thronging the parade route, but racism also won that day. The conservative white women of NAWSA wanted to refuse the participation of black women. Paul’s committee offered the compromise of relegating African American women to the back.