Why were the white suffragists hesitant to march with the Black suffragists?
White suffragists were hesitant to march with black suffragists because they were overwhelmingly racist. A belief in white supremacy was virtually universal in American society at that time, and white suffragists were no exception. White suffragists also refused to march with Black suffragists because they wanted to forge a strategic alliance with white Southern women, who, if anything, were even more racist and committed to the upholding of white supremacy.
As with all areas of American history, the rise of the suffragist movement is a good deal more complicated than it appears on the surface. While the suffragist movement can be seen on the whole as a good thing which led to the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment and the subsequent enfranchisement of millions of American women, it also had something of a blind spot when it came to racism and white supremacy. Far from attempting to forge a strategic alliance with Black suffragists, white suffragists were notably antagonistic towards those who should have been their natural allies in the struggle for the right to vote.
There are a number of reasons for this. First and foremost, white suffragists were by no means immune to the regressive attitudes to race that dominated American society in the early twentieth century. Even in the North, the idea of Black and white women working together and marching together, even in defense of a noble cause, was anathema to many. Ingrained racist attitudes were particularly widespread among America's elite, and as many white suffragists came from this elite, they were inevitably steeped in the retrograde attitudes of their social class.
Strategic considerations also played a part in the attitudes of white suffragists toward their Black sisters. If the suffragist movement were to succeed in its goals, it would have to forge alliances with women in the South. At this time, the South was still firmly in the grip of Jim Crow, which not only upheld racial segregation, but made it impossible for African Americans to exercise their right to vote.
If the suffragist movement were to take root outside of the big cities of the North and Midwest, then it would have to accommodate itself to the South's racist ideology. In practical terms, this meant that there was no attempt whatsoever by the suffragist movement to address the scandal of voter suppression.
So when the Nineteenth Amendment was finally passed, something for which the suffragist movement had been campaigning for so long, it effectively became a dead letter in the South, where newly enfranchised women were systematically deprived of the right to vote.
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