As the League of Women Voters celebrates its 100th anniversary this year – as well as the centennial of the 19th Amendment – African American women can be forgiven for holding back a bit.
The white women in the early League (and in the suffragist campaign leading up to the vote for women) didn’t treat black women suffragists as equals.
The 19th Amendment didn’t solve black women’s voting problems, said long-time Orlando broadcaster Jackie Brockington, moderator of Wednesday’s LWVOC Hot Topics program. It wasn’t until the ‘60s and the Voting Rights Act that African Americans (men and women) received the long-needed protection from the law.
And these days, voting rights, particularly those of blacks, are being threatened again at the hands of the courts and the state legislatures enacting voter-suppression regulations (fewer early-voter days, purging names from the rolls, changing the rules).
Wednesday’s panel of accomplished women of color – Tiffany Moore Russell, Clerk of the Orange County Courts; Dr. LaVon Bracy, long-time activist and co-founder of the New Covenant Baptist Church; and Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of Orlando’s Wells’Built Museum of African American History & Culture -- addressed several issues involving voting and running for office.
Russell said she lost the first two offices she ran for, but “when women support each other, good things can happen.” She won a seat on the Orange County Commission before becoming clerk of the courts. She believes in going door to door when running for office and in providing people specific reasons why they should vote, i.e. protection of the Social Security system or knowledge about such local topics as water usage.
Thompson and Bracy both stressed the importance of sharing African American stories with the young. “We have to make them see the sacrifices people made,” Thompson said, “give kids the intellectual respect and tell them these stories.”
Bracy said voters need to be told the importance of not just voting every four years but also in local and off-year elections. And, yes, she said, “we are still being disenfranchised,” citing the Florida Legislature’s efforts to keep Amendment 4 – the felons’ rights ballot initiative approved by 64.55% of the voters – from going fully into effect.
After the discussion, Bracy signed copies of her children’s book “A Brave Little Cookie,” which recounts the story of her being the first black graduate of Gainesville High School in 1965. She was spit on, beaten and ignored during her senior year (which she spoke about two years ago at an LWVOC Hot Topics during Black History Month). After that “silent” year, she said, “I decided not to be silent anymore.”