Sojourner Truth. Ida B. Wells Barnett. Anna Julia Cooper. Do you recognize these names?
Most of us don’t, and that’s why I am writing this post on Martin Luther King Day 2009, the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama, our first black president and a man who identifies as a feminist.
These black women — and many others — worked to give women of all races the vote. And today that seems more important than ever.
Here is a little bit about these three important women:
Sojourner Truth was a former slave who became a long-term presence in national social movements. She traveled the country speaking out for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and suffrage, among other causes. Her most famous speech was given at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, “Ain’t I a Woman?”. A building in Akron is named after her.
Ida B. Wells Barnett was a teacher and journalist who led an anti-lynching campaign in the late 19th century. A woman’s rights activist, she organized the Alpha Suffrage club for black women in Chicago and brought a group of members to the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. When white organizers told her group to march at the end of the parade, she refused. As the parade went on, she stepped out from the sidelines and joined white marchers from Illinois. Wells Barnett was a founding member of the NAACP and the National Association for Colored Women.
Anna Julia Cooper was born a slave. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oberlin College in Ohio and a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris. She was a staunch advocate for women’s rights, including suffrage. In 1892 she published A Voice from the South by a Black Woman from the South. In 1893, she spoke at the World’s Congress of Representative Women in Chicago. She also spoke at the 1900 Pan-African Congress Conference in London. She was effective at persuading black women that they needed the vote. She helped found the Colored Women’s YWCA in Washington, D.C.
Learn more about African American women who helped make history by visiting the Web page for Freedom’s Sisters, a traveling exhibit honoring 20 key women from the civil rights movement. It is now on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.