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For the Freedom of Her Race

For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    For the Freedom of Her Race
    Book Description:

    Focusing on Chicago and downstate Illinois politics during the incredibly oppressive decades between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932--a period that is often described as the nadir of black life in America--Lisa Materson demonstrates the impact that migrating southern black women had on midwestern and national politics, first in the Republican Party and later in the Democratic Party.Materson shows that as African American women migrated beyond the reach of southern white supremacists, they became active voters, canvassers, suffragists, campaigners, and lobbyists, mobilizing to elect representatives who would push for the enforcement of the Reconstruction Amendments in the South. In so doing, black women kept alive a very distinct strain of Republican Party ideology that favored using federal power to protect black citizenship rights. Materson also examines the Republican failure to enact antilynching legislation, which began the move of black women toward the Democrats, and she discusses women's embrace of the Democratic Party with the election of FDR in 1932.For the Freedom of Her Raceis an important contribution to the story of African American women's role in electoral politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, illuminating questions about voting rights, electoral organization, and the struggles for racial and gender equality in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0595-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction (pp. 1-19)

    In 1913 Ella Elm rejected the life of limited and unsteady employment that was available to black women in Arkansas by relocating to Illinois, where she had heard “there was lots of work.”¹ Work, or wage labor, had been a necessary component of Elm’s life in Arkansas after she “went to school some.”² Elm did not describe the nature of her employment in Arkansas to the interviewer who visited her home in downstate Illinois in the late 1930s. She would have been in the minority of black women in the state if she did not eke out a marginal income...

  5. [1] Tomorrow You Will Go to the Polls: Women’s Voting in Chicago in 1894 (pp. 20-59)

    The crisp clear autumn air of November 6, 1894, was punctuated with excitement and eagerness as thousands of women in Illinois traveled to the polls. Many dressed in their best attire, assembled at prearranged open houses or meeting places, and then took carriages or walked in groups to their precinct polling sites. The majority adhered to calls to submit their specially printed woman’s ballot only between 10 A.M. and 2 P.M., so as not to interfere with men’s voting before and after work and during lunch break. Working women, however, arrived early at the polls. Enthusiasm led others to enter...

  6. [2] Because Her Parents Had Never Had the Chance: Southern Migrant Politics during the 1910s (pp. 60-107)

    In 1912 Jennie E. Lawrence quit her work as a teacher in the Carolinas to pursue a career in social work in Chicago.¹ At some point between 1904 and 1907, Ella G. Berry left her home in Louisville, Kentucky, for Cincinnati and then for Chicago.² By relocating to Illinois in search of professional and economic opportunity, both women also took control of their own political destiny and helped to transfer the center of the struggle for black rights from the South to the Midwest. During the 1910s, both emerged as leading Republican organizers in the predominantly black wards of South...

  7. [3] Profit from the Mistakes of Men: National Party Politics, 1920–1924 (pp. 108-148)

    “I wish I had time to go into detail,” Chicago clubwoman Margaret Gainer proudly announced in March 1921, “but Illinois believes it has done its part.” Gainer was addressing leading black clubwomen from throughout the country who, like her, had worked on behalf of the Colored Women’s Department of the Republican National Committee (CWDRNC) in the 1920 election and had traveled to Washington, D.C., in order to celebrate together the inauguration of Warren G. Harding as president. ‘‘Not only have we instructed the women in voting,’’ Gainer told an audience which included the likes of Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Mary Church...

  8. [4] The Prohibition Issue as a Smoke Screen: The Failure of Racial Uplift Ideology and the 1928 Election (pp. 149-184)

    In the heat of the 1928 presidential contest between New York’s Democratic governor Alfred E. Smith and Republican Herbert Hoover, the Colored Women’s Department of the Republican National Committee issued a pamphlet entitled,The Prohibition Issue as a Smoke Screen. The pamphlet sought to focus the attention of black voters on one of the most contested topics of the 1928 election, whether the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of liquor, should be gradually dismantled, repealed altogether, or remain part of the U.S. Constitution. The pamphlet argued that Democrat Alfred Smith’s promise to weaken or annul the Volstead...

  9. [5] Political Recognition for Themselves and Their Daughters: The Campaigns of Ruth Hanna McCormick, 1927–1930 (pp. 185-227)

    “Resolved, that we hereby serve notice on Mrs. Ruth Hanna McCormick that we resent the slight thus put upon the Negro women of Illinois whose vote she solicits, by the employment of an outsider to influence that vote, and pledge ourselves to use our influence to urge the Negro women throughout the state to resent the slight thus put upon them.”¹ So went a letter that fifty leading black Republican women from throughout Illinois endorsed in early October 1929 and sent to Ruth Hanna McCormick, a white Republican seeking the party’s nomination for U.S. senator from Illinois. The “outsider” to...

  10. Conclusion (pp. 228-240)

    “Oh say, Lovie did you hear about Jennie E. Lawrence?” asked “Wire-Tappings” in late October 1932. A regularDefendercolumn that announced the comings and goings of social life on the South Side, “Wire-Tappings” was written as if the author was directly interacting with a reader. Adhering to this format, the author responded to an imagined lack of recognition: “You do know her, too. She lives at 4439 Calumet Ave., and is one of the biggest political figures in Chicago.” The purpose of Lawrence’s mention was to share news of her health: “She has been sick in the hospital with...

  11. Notes (pp. 241-298)
  12. Bibliography (pp. 299-320)
  13. Index (pp. 321-344)