With the certification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920, women gained the right to vote after a decades-long struggle. “The right to vote of citizens of the United States will not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state for reasons of gender,” one read.
But while passing the 19th Amendment allowed most white women to vote, many women of color did not.
“For black women, their votes were not raised by this tide in the South,” says Christina Rivers, associate professor of political science at Depaul University. “Their votes were removed purely on the basis of race.”
Also barred from voting: Native Americans – both men and women – were only granted the right to vote when the Snyder Act of 1924 was passed, four years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment and more than 50 years after the passage of the 15th amendment. Even so, some western states, including Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, did not grant Native Americans the right to vote until the 1940s and 1950s. It was only with Cable. Act of 1922 that women were allowed to retain their citizenship – and obtain the right to vote – if they were married to an immigrant (who had to be eligible to become a U.S. citizen).
Literate women in Puerto Rico were granted the right to vote in 1929, but it was not until 1935 that all women were granted the right. And Asian American immigrant women were denied the right to vote until 1952, when immigration and nationality law allowed them to become citizens.
READ MORE: A timeline of the fight for all women’s suffrage
A divided suffrage movement
But even with the passage of these amendments and laws, a number of nefarious methods were used to prevent segments of the population from voting. Most of these measures targeted black Americans in the Jim Crow South, but Latinxes, Native Americans, and Asian Americans also faced barriers in voting in the Southwest and West.
“When you combine literacy tests, invasive registration forms, interpretation tests, voting taxes and outright violence, it has reduced the enrollment percentages of blacks to single digits in most. Southern Confederate countries, ”said Rivers.
In fact, according to Pearl Dowe, professor of political science and African American studies at Emory University, efforts to legalize the right to vote have been fraught with racism and division associated with the abolitionist movement.
“The biracial coalition that formed during abolition was very tenuous and ultimately fractured due to disputes over what the status of freed blacks should be,” she said. “It was often based on whites having conflicting attitudes about black humanity and whether they were equal to whites. These problems and divisions continued in the suffrage movement.”
READ MORE: How early suffragists left black women out
WATCH: The 19th Amendment
Literacy tests designed to discourage voting
And these divisions did not stop with the passage of the 19th Amendment. In addition to threats, intimidation, harassment, beatings and murder, other devices, such as literacy tests, have been implemented not only in the Jim Crow South, but also in many other states, including Connecticut, and designed specifically to prevent black people from voting.
Administered and interpreted arbitrarily, registrars could ask questions of citizens at their discretion and also had the power to pass or fail applicants without any explanation. The practice did not end in some states until the adoption of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“There is ample evidence that even if black people somehow passed these tests, they would often be denied the right to register to vote and in some states it was illegal for them. registrars to explain why someone was denied the right to vote. or why they didn’t “pass” those tests, “says Rivers. “White applicants, including those with only a second or third grade education who were illiterate, were not required to take these tests or were only required to answer one or two questions. . There is also evidence that registrars gave them the answers. “
The interpretive tests were linked to the literacy tests, which were not overturned by the courts until the late 1950s on the grounds that they were too arbitrary. According to Rivers, a test of interpretation would involve transcribing or translating a passage from a complicated text – usually the legal jargon of a state constitution. “They were designed to be very difficult to pull off,” she says.
WATCH: Women’s History Collection on HISTORY Vault
Election taxes prevent the poor from voting
Another barrier to voting, which had existed since America’s early creation, was the election tax.
“Election taxes were very effective in the former Confederate South because most blacks were very poor there and could not afford the tax,” Rivers says. “Election taxes were ubiquitous from day one, but they were increased even more in the Confederate states.”
Holding all-white primaries and all-white political party membership has also been used to prevent people of color from voting in some southern states. “Anyone could vote in the general election, but to vote in the primary you had to be white,” said Rivers.
A series of litigation to overturn the all-white primaries has unfolded over several decades. “And every time the Supreme Court overturned something, these states would come up with another device to replace it,” Rivers said. “So it was a kind of virtual deprivation of the right to vote.”
READ MORE: Timeline of the reconstruction
Voting Rights Act 1965 results in increased voting rates
Another method used to prevent people of color from voting was extremely complicated voter registration.
“In Alabama, for example, the registration form was four pages long and was very, very invasive,” Rivers says. “Filled with questions meant to intimidate, discourage and disqualify candidates, they were ubiquitous throughout Jim Crow South.”
It was not until 45 years after the entry into force of the 19th Amendment, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, that all women were free to vote.
“The voting rights law did exactly what it was supposed to do,” says Rivers. “It enabled the registration and voting of historically suppressed minorities. It worked very well and in a very short period of time black voting and registration rates skyrocketed. “
READ MORE: 5 black suffragists who fought for the 19th Amendment – and more