Black Suffragists Helped Lead Charge in Women's Voting Rights Campaign

Feb 26, 2020

Often left out of the history of women’s suffrage is the role of black women in that effort. The predominantly black service sorority Delta Sigma Theta’s first public act was to participate in the Women’s Suffrage March of 1913.

The decision to protest was brave for several reasons. White suffragists were not all in favor of black women marching, for fear that it would alienate some whites. The black women couldn’t be sure they too would get the benefit of the rights they were fighting for, and it was generally unsafe for women, minorities, and young people to make any dissenting feelings known. National president of Delta Sigma Theta Beverly E. Smith talks about the group’s decision to participate despite the obstacles.

“They did put themselves in a dangerous spot,” Smith said. “But they felt strongly enough about what they were doing that it was important to make a stand for the women who needed and wanted the right to vote.”

Smith went on to talk about what she admires about the women of that time.

“I think the fact that they stepped out to fight for somebody else’s rights rather than their own. And obviously, in an ideal world, the rights and the needs for their own would then be addressed.  That takes a lot of guts.”

Smith added that she believes the lessons of 100-plus years ago are applicable to this day.

“I think the message that we have from what Deltas did is, human rights issues are everybody’s issues. The importance of not being silent in times when you should speak up,” Smith says. “It’s that silence that kills us.”