A Woman’s Right to Vote: A Perspective

By J. Elizabeth Thomas

The history of a woman’s right to vote was not paramount in my mind when I first went to the polls. That vote was for a bond issue to fund a kindergarten program in a local school district. The year was 1959–over sixty years ago. My first vote for a president came one year later–the candidate, John F. Kennedy. I did not know of a time when Black women could not vote. Young people seem only to know about the present.

I met all of the requirements to vote according to the U.S. Constitution and that of my state. No literacy test or poll taxes were required, nor were my sex and the color of my skin. Didn’t everyone in this country have the right to vote? This was the viewpoint of a eighteen-year old.

To understand my viewpoint, you must know more about the family that reared me. At no time in my life was I told that I could not do something because of my skin color.

When I was six years old, my mother would take me to school, which was approximately a mile away. We had to pass a school attended by white students. I asked why I could not go to that school, which was closer to my home. My mother responded that she wanted the best for me and that the teachers at that school were not very good. That response satisfied a cold and weary six-year old.

Yes, I did figure out the ugly truth about segregation and discrimination. By the time I did, I had a very positive self-concept. The thought that I could not do anything because of my sex or skin color was not a part of my life.

While my state had no barriers for black citizens to vote when I was eighteen, I became acutely aware that African-Americans in many other states could not exercise this basic right. I and my family were active in civil rights activities so that all people of color could vote and have all rights promised to us by our country.

While much progress has been made, there is much more that needs to be done.

About the Author: 

J.  Elizabeth Thomas is a Professor Emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University.


Featured Photo: Women campaigning for voting rights