Dangerous “Passing”: Addie Hunton and Black Women’s Fight Against Disfranchisement in 1920s Virginia (Women's History Colloquium)

SLON Combo

Open to the public

/ Thursday


Headshot style photo of Liette GidlowIn late October 1920, investigator Addie Hunton “hurr[ied] along” her report to NAACP chair Mary White Ovington. With only days to go before the November presidential election, there was no time to spare. The Nineteenth Amendment was now on the books, but registrars in Norfolk, Virginia were refusing Black women who tried to register to vote. These women feared white reprisals if they challenged the officials, yet they freely told their stories of rejection and humiliation to Hunton, an NAACP representative who had traveled in from New York and who spent less than 48 hours in town. Why did they share such dangerous stories with a total stranger? Liette Gidlow unwinds this mystery by delving deep into the archives to explore the many ways African American women in the Jim Crow South fought for voting rights after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. Her research finds that while a great many southern Black women were indeed disfranchised, a surprising number in fact succeeded in voting, and their successes, together with ceaseless agitation by those who remained disfranchised, transformed American politics for the next hundred years and ultimately helped elect Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president.