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Women at the Polls

While newly enfranchised white women, political leaders, and newspaper editors encouraged women to exercise their new rights and register to vote after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, efforts to register by Black women were largely discouraged or prohibited. Because of the threat of conflict with whites, even some Black men discouraged Black women from trying to vote. 

When Black women showed up in larger numbers than white women in some polling places, Democratic politicians feared the end of Democratic Party domination in the state. Democratic leaders believed that Black voters would vote Republican, and indeed most Black voters had historically supported the "anti-slavery party" of Abraham Lincoln.

Contemporary ewspaper articles reveal the concerns held by whites about Black women voting.  Progressive papers which supported equal rights reported about the difficulties Black women faced when attempting to register to vote.

At Last--The Vote

North Carolina Collection

Bost, Emma Ingold. 1920. Songs in many keys. [Hickory, N.C.]: [Clay Printing Co.].

A poem from white North Carolina poet Sarah Emma Ingold Bost (1859-1942) celebrates voting rights for women.

The Independent Friday October 8, 1920

Independent, Friday, October 8, 1920

The Independent Friday October 29, 1920

Independent, Friday, October 29, 1920

"Bad Leadership," Independent, Friday, October 8, 1920

"1000 Women in County Register," Independent, Friday, October 29, 1920

W.O. Saunders, a progressive white newspaper publisher, reported about the problems that Black women faced when they tried to register to vote after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. White supremacist politicians suppressed the right of Black men to vote with the passage of the Suffrage Amendment to North Carolina’s constitution in 1900, which required that voters be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language. The October 29 issue states that although educated Black women could pass the test, they "prefer disfranchisement to the humiliation of examination by hostile registrars."

Rocky Mount Telegram Saturday September 18, 1920

Rocky Mount Telegram, Saturday, September 18, 1920

"Negro Women are Registering Fast," Rocky Mount Telegram, Saturday, September 18, 1920

Perhaps as a warning to white North Carolina voters, the Rocky Mount Telegram reported that Black women were overwhelming the registration headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, "outnumbering white women nearly three to one."

The News Herald Thursday October 21, 1920

News-Herald (Morganton), Thursday, October 21, 1920 

"Negro Women Tried to Register at Asheville," News-Herald (Morganton), Thursday, October 21, 1920

Black women showed up in large numbers at Asheville polling sites, which drew attention to the fact that white women were not. The News Herald attributes the high level of interest among Black women to mass meetings organized by Republicans.  

The Gastonia Gazette Tuesday October 12, 1920

Gastonia Gazette, Tuesday, October 12, 1920

"Advises Negro Women to Stay Out," Gastonia Gazette, Tuesday, October 12, 1920

James B. Dudley, the president of Greensboro’s Agricultural and Technical College for African American students, wrote a letter to Black women that was reprinted and commented on in papers across the state. Dudley believed that Blacks had made important strides toward living peacefully alongside whites and that these gains would be lost if Black women began to push for their constitutional rights. This article agrees with Dudley’s advice, stating that "no matter what may be in the Constitution or the statute law, nothing is to be gained by the attempt to an inferior to coerce a superior race."

Lenoir News Topic Friday October 15, 1920

Lenoir News Topic, Friday, October 15, 1920

"Colored Women Voting" Lenoir News Topic, Friday, October 15, 1920

Following James Dudley’s appeal, Edward Hayes, a Black Caldwell County junk dealer, appeals to Black women to stay away from the polls and instead “get right with God.”  Hayes reveals a common belief of the time that women should not “mix up in politics.”

The Beaufort News Thursday October 14, 1920

Beaufort News (NC), Thursday, October 14, 1920

The Stanly News Herald Friday September 24, 1920

Stanly News-Herald (Albemarle), September 24, 1920

"Unsavory Politics," Beaufort News (NC), Thursday, October 14, 1920

"Colored Women's Rights Association Gives Good Advice to Negro Voters,"  Stanly News-Herald (Albemarle), September 24, 1920

In September 1920, Black women in North Carolina received letters urging them to register and vote for the Republican ticket on November 2, 1920. One copy of the letter was mistakenly sent to a white woman who then made it public. The letter, reprinted by papers across the state, declared the “time for negroes has come,” and others contained statements that proved incendiary to some white readers. Some papers attributed the authorship of the letter to Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, a prominent Black suffragist and leader of the State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. But no one, including Brown, admitted penning the letter, and many Republicans labelled it a "Democratic trick."