On August 26, 1920 the 19th Amendment became law, decreeing the right to vote could not be denied anyone based on gender. Women’s Equality Day marks that momentous occasion in U.S. history, and today numerous media outlets and politicians have noted the 90th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.
Except that isn’t the whole story.
You’d be hard pressed to find a news article mentioning that women of color were still routinely denied the right to vote for decades after the 19th amendment was passed. The National Voting Rights Act of 1965 wasn’t just for the benefit of black men, after all. And as Renee Martin of Womanist Musings notes:
In 1882, The Chinese Exclusion Act barred people of Chinese ancestry from becoming American citizens. Can you guess what else they could not do? These means generations of Chinese Americans, born on U.S. soil were denied suffrage and citizen rights. In 1922, the Supreme Court ruled, in Takao Ozawa v. United States, that people of Japanese heritage were not eligible to become naturalized citizens and in 1925, Filipinos were barred from citizenship, unless they have served three years in the U.S. Navy. Gotta love that last one, risk your life for us and then you can have citizenship. Of course, all these groups contained WOC and despite the 19th Amendment, they were not voting– but you won’t hear elite White women mention this when they celebrate their achievement. The Chinese Exclusion act was not repealed until… drum roll please… 1943. Hey, isn’t that 23 years after women had the right to vote? And in even more appalling news, it wasn’t until 1946 that Filipinos and indigenous people from India become eligible for U.S. citizenship. I know my math is rusty, but doesn’t that add up to 26 years, since the passing of the 19th amendment?
Of course the 19th Amendment is still worth celebrating! But it serves the principle of women’s equality to remember it was only one step of many taken to guarantee all American women the right to vote.