100th Anniversary of Suffrage
Three years before women won the right to vote, civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois wrote the essay below in The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Let us understand frankly, there is not the slightest reason for supposing that white American women under ordinary circumstances are going to be any more intelligent, liberal or humane toward the black, the poor and unfortunate than white men are. On the contrary, considering what the subjection of a race, a class or a sex must mean, there will undoubtedly manifest itself among women voters at first more prejudice and petty meanness toward Negroes than we have now.
It is the awful penalty of injustice and oppression to breed in the oppressed the desire to oppress others. The southern white women who form one of the most repressed and enslaved groups of modern civilized women will undoubtedly, at first, help willingly and zealously to disenfranchise Negroes, cripple their schools and publicly insult them. Nevertheless, votes for women must and ought to come and the Negroes should help bring this to pass for these reasons:
- Any extension of democracy involves a discussion of the fundamentals of democracy.
- If it is acknowledged to be unjust to disenfranchise a sex it cannot be denied that it is absurd to disenfranchise a color.
- If the North enfranchises women, the proportion of unselfish intelligent voters among Negroes will be increased, and the proportion of Negro voters whom white politicians have trained to venality will be decreased.
- If when the North enfranchises women the South refuses, or enfranchises only the whites, then the discrepancy between North and South in the votes cast will be even greater than now; at present the southern white voter has from five to seven times the power of the northern voter. How long would the nation endure an increase or even a doubling of this power? It would not take long before southern representatives in Congress would be cut down or colored women enfranchised.
- Granting that first tendencies would make the women voter as unfair in race rights as the man, there would be in the long run a better chance to appeal to a group that knows the disadvantage and injustice of disenfranchisement by experience, than to one careless and arrogant with power. And in all cases the broader the basis of democracy the surer is the universal appeal for justice to win ultimate hearing and sympathy.
Therefore: Votes for Women.
Civil rights leader, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar, W.E.B. DuBois was a founder of the NAACP. This essay appeared in The Crisis, the NAACP’s magazine, in 1917.