Sewall-Belmont Honors Black Women’s Suffrage Role

Posted February 16, 2007 at 5:50pm

The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum will pay tribute to the role of black females during the fight for women’s suffrage in an event this week.

“Sisters in Suffrage? Understanding the Relationship between Black and White Women in the Women’s Suffrage Movement” is being presented at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the museum.

According to Becki Fogerty, education and interpretive program manager for the museum, the free event is being held during the month set aside to honor the achievements of black Americans as a new approach to educate Washington, D.C., residents about the ties between women’s suffrage and African Americans.

“We obviously do a lot with women’s history month,” Fogerty said. “Black history month has not typically been a month that we celebrate with educational programs. But we’ve been trying to tell a more inclusive story of the suffrage movement … we thought we needed a program for black history month that talked a little bit about what we’ve been trying to accomplish.”

The lecture will feature two speakers: Laura Kopp, a 2006 Dr. Johnetta B. Cole Fellow, who will speak in detail about the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade, in which more than 6,000 people marched on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. to highlight the cause; and Margaret Coleman, a park ranger for the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, who intends to deliver an upbeat message regarding key black women in U.S. history.

Kopp completed the 2006 Cole Fellowship Program sponsored by the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum last summer. As Fogerty notes, Kopp’s research last summer was “specifically about the role of African Americans in the suffrage movement.” During her tenure, Kopp — currently a dual master’s candidate in 19th-century U.S. history and library science (archival studies) at the University of Maryland — also explored the role of black women in the 1913 parade.

By choosing this focus for her speech, Kopp knew that she would be covering “a pivotal moment in the history of women’s suffrage.” She said that the timing and presence of the 1913 parade in D.C. also were important.

“Planned for the day before President [Woodrow] Wilson’s inaugural parade, the suffragists hoped to show their unity in the fight for the vote,” Kopp pointed out, “especially in front of Southern Democrats who were hostile to female suffrage.”

Coleman hopes to incorporate three prime figures from history that impacted both the women’s movement and black history: Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer and Mary McLeod Bethune. According to Coleman, the three figures were chosen because they “were brave women and they stood up to dispel myths about black women and black people in America.”

Coleman stressed that her talk will be upbeat.

“It’s a positive,” Coleman said, “Not accusing anyone. A lot of times people, when they get to talking about race relations, it’s always the ‘blame game.’ And this is not a ‘blame game,’ this will be a positive message that will look at the life and times and how far we have come.”

An RSVP is required for the event and can be obtained by calling 202-546-1210 or by e-mailing rsvp@sewallbelmont.org.