Moments of interracial cooperation in the Kentucky suffrage movement

Melanie Beals Goan's picture

Some questions have come up recently about examples within the Kentucky suffrage movement of black and white women working together to secure voting rights. 

Randolph Hollingsworth has written about one instance in 1915 in Bell County as reported in the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Minutes.  You can find information about it here:

From what I can tell, there were only a handful of times when KERA members advocated for interracial cooperation.  Each time, the efforts seem to have been spearheaded by a specific suffragist who had an interest in such work and who was bold enough to lead it.  These efforts do not appear to have been supported by the larger membership.

Here are the times when I have seen evidence of such efforts in the KERA records:

1. Eugenia Farmer's work to encourage school suffrage in the mid-1890s

* The Los Angeles Times reported that Eugenia Farmer had organized an ERA in Covington for black women, “the first of its kind in the State.”  The reason for doing so, it reported, was so that black women could vote intelligently in upcoming school board elections.  Source: “What Women are Doing,” Los Angeles Times, February 24, 1895, 2.
* At the 1895 KERA convention, when local chapters were reporting on their work, the Covington Colored Organization’s report was read.  The report is not printed in the minutes like all the others, however.  Source: 1895 KERA Minutes, 6, UK Special Collections.

* Eugenia Farmer spoke three times in 1895 to the Colored Methodist Church in Covington on school suffrage.  Source: 1895 KERA Minutes, 22, UK Special Collections.

The Woman’s Journal reported in November 1894 that Farmer was “busily engaged in instructing the white and colored women of Covington in their duties and privileges of voting for the Board of Education in that city.”  Farmer noted that the women were interested and comprehended the matter easily.  Source: “Editorial Notes,” The Woman’s Journal, December 1, 1894, 377,$100i

2. Louise Southgate's call to action in 1910

* Covington's Louise Southgate proposed that KERA should extend greetings to the Kentucky Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1910 and the motion passed.  The Minutes note that the secretary will “convey greetings.”  Source: 1910 KERA Minutes, 6. 

3. Efforts by Louisville women to register black women to vote in school elections in 1915

* Boldly ignoring the ill-fated history of the school vote when opponents claimed too many black women in Lexington had voted, Louisville suffragists, many with Neighborhood House connections, held meetings at the colored branch of the public library and at the black Beargrass Baptist church.  Black women embraced their new rights alongside white women.  When Louisville registration numbers came in, the results showed that nineteen percent of the total registrants were black, which matched the city’s African American population almost precisely.  Ann Allen discusses these efforts in the bio sketches she has written and in "Woman Suffrage and Progressive Reform in Louisville, 1908–1920," forthcoming, Ohio Valley History.  

* Louisville suffragist Susan Look Avery was outspoken on race issues starting much earlier.  Randolph Hollingsworth has transcribed her 1903 pamphlet "Justice to the Negro" here:

In most cases, I was unable to determine where these efforts led. 

And as Claudia Knott reminds in her 1989 disseration, "This Interracial activity did not mean that white suffragists began to regard African-Americans as equal partners in the suffrage movement."  The white suffragists saw themselves as "the initiators and directors."  Source: Knott, "The Woman Movement," 210.