In honor of Black History Month and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the University Libraries at Virginia Tech is highlighting African American women who fought and struggled to ensure that they were not left out of the suffrage movement.

Scott Fralin, exhibits program manager and learning environments librarian, in collaboration with Lucien Holness, an assistant professor in the Department of History and historical consultant, crafted the “African American Women and the Fight for the Vote” exhibit, located on the second floor of Newman Library. The exhibit will be on display until March 1. 

Beautifully arranged photos of strong, historical African American women adorn the exhibit walls. Each image is accompanied by the story of each woman and her place in history. A women’s suffrage timeline spanning from 1848 to 1920 and a free-expression space where visitors can write their opinions about barriers to voting they have seen or experienced add an interactive feature to the exhibit. 

The women you meet through their stories do not represent the full extent of the African American women’s suffrage movement, but rather serve as an introduction to some of the strong women who tirelessly worked to make sure African American women were granted the right to vote. 

“I hope people realize that something we all have now, the right to vote, isn’t something everyone has always had,” said Fralin. “A lot of women had to fight for a long time, 70 years, to gain the right to vote.”

The women’s suffrage movement repeatedly marginalized and excluded African American women, who also had to contend with racism and sexism. White suffragists excluded African American women because they needed the votes of southern state legislatures, U.S. senators, and congressmen. 

“The story of women’s suffrage is much more complex than we take into consideration in the role of racism in American society,” said Holness. “I hope that the exhibit will remind visitors not to generalize the experiences of all women, encouraging them to take into consideration the role that race and class serve in shaping the lives of women.”

The fight for the vote did not end with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. In some southern states, African American women were unable to freely exercise their right to vote until the 1960s. Despite the difficulty of the fight, it did not deter them in their effort to secure the vote, and this exhibit represents their strength. 

“It is my hope that this exhibit will encourage visitors to think more critically about the 19th Amendment and the larger historical context surrounding the amendment by including the stories of Black women who have largely been excluded from the story of voting rights in America,” said Holness.

The goal of the University Libraries’ exhibits programs is to educate the Virginia Tech community on a variety of topics through engaging displays.

“I hope this exhibit makes more people aware of the contributions African American women made to the women’s suffrage movement,” said Fralin. “All too often this history is whitewashed and people aren’t aware that the suffrage movement involved people other than white women. I think the cool thing is that the exhibit takes a topic that very few people are aware of and shines a light on it.”

Written by Elise Monsour Puckett