Celebrating African American Suffragists in Downtown Houston

Suffrage Celebration Processional, Annie Johnson Benifield, PhD (middle) Photo Credit: Sonya Sellers

On Friday, May 28, 2021 come celebrate the relentless spirit of 6,000-odd African American Suffragists in Downtown Houston. These trailblazers cast their first federal election vote in Houston in 1920 post the ratification of the 19th Amendment, at Antioch Park, 1400 Smith St. Now, you too can be a part of the extraordinary suffragist story of Harris County women from nearly 101 years ago!

According to the Houston Suffragists Project, approximately 14,000 women had cast their ballot in Harris County; of which nearly 5,000-6,000 of those voters were Black women. “The Houston Suffragists Project uncovered the story of how Houston women went to court challenging the Texas Constitution’s Jim Crow poll tax,” The Heritage Society’s executive director, Alison Bell said. “The suffragists’ victory resulted in an outpouring of 6,000 African American women and 8,000 white women voting in the first federal election.”

Despite their decade-long struggles, the role of African American suffragists have largely been overlooked in the women’s suffrage movement; it is vital-now more than ever-to spotlight the contributions of Black communities and set the record straight!

African American Suffragist – Houston Program Agenda

The free event, which is open to the public, will see attendance from members of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Houston Alumnae Chapter, and The Heritage Society. While Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess will share their insights as special guest speakers.

Organisations and attendees will gather at Antioch Park at 4:30 PM. Following a celebratory speech at Antioch Park, attendees will proceed to recreate a women’s processional (much like the one that happened back in 1920) from the church to The Heritage Society at 1100 Bagby. Visitors are welcome to enjoy special performances by the Meta-Four Houston Poetry Slam Team, light refreshments in the museum’s courtyard, and open tours of the suffrage exhibit at The Heritage Society’s museum until 6:30 PM.

Heritage Society Houston Exhibition on African American Suffragists

The Heritage Society’s current exhibit “Houston Women Cast Their Ballots: Celebrating 100 Years of the Right to Vote!” is available for regular tours, virtual tours, and private tours until Saturday, May 29, 2021. Sign up here. For more information about the event, click here.

Picture Credit: The Heritage Society

This exhibit showcases the efforts of thousands of women in the state of Texas, especially those in Houston, through documents, photographs, historical objects, textiles, and various media. “This unique suffragist story of Harris County Women from nearly 101 years ago gives us encouragement to continue fighting for our right to vote under challenging circumstances, which women and minorities once again face in Texas and throughout the country,” The Heritage Society’s board member Martha Whiting-Goddard said. “We are excited to recognize the past accomplishments of local women in Harris County and Texas, which provide us with the hope and determination to see our voting rights battles through, both now and in the future.”

Dress Code, Parking and Covid-19 Protocols

Attendees are encouraged to wear ‘suffragist white’ dresses or purple and white attire to honor the NACW, the original African American women’s suffragists’ organization. Traditionally, Suffragists have resorted to visual symbolism to advocate their cause. While purple stands for loyalty, white, was symbolic of purity, it is also the color most associated with Suffragists today.

Following the outbreak of the global covid-19 pandemic, masks are mandatory for the event. Additionally, a vaccination station inside the church will be available.

Parking is available for free at The Heritage Society’s parking lot. Paid parking is available at Allen Center Garage, 300 Clay St., across from Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

Did you know that Galveston Island was an integral part of African American History? The recently added “Absolute Equality” mural, which illustrates the journey of Black Americans out of slavery into freedom, is the newest addition to Galveston’s rich history-focused attractions. Check out all the monuments and historic sites that Galveston island has to offer.

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