OP-ED: The SGRho Journey - Our Voice and Our Vote
Even still, the African American woman has always been impeccable with her obligation of duty to strengthen the power of her voice with action. This was seen especially in the 98% of Black women voters in the 2017 special election to replace Senator Jeff Sessions in Alabama. Many credit Black women with Doug Jones’s victory. This commitment does not exist as a misnomer. The Black woman shows up consistently regardless of the ultimate dejection of our melanin and gender. This persistence has been demonstrated throughout history, especially when we reflect upon our impact on the granting of women’s voting rights.
As we celebrate the centennial of the US Constitution’s 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote, we must acknowledge Black women’s role in the suffrage movement. Black women were present as usual fighting and marching in the background for a moment that lives in eternal honor. However, this movement left the African American woman out in 1920. Even though Sojourner Truth declared “Ain’t I a woman” and we founded the National Association of Colored Women years prior, our sweat equity and blood were utilized to fuel success for white women who did secure the ability to vote. The voting right was granted to Black women 45 years later. This means that several Black suffragists who fought never relished in the fruits of that victory.
As usual, the Black woman used her voice to fight for all and gain a win for some. For all accounts, we were sidelined and forgotten in 1920. Yet, that did not deter nor dissuade the Black woman from the journey. As we look at the state of Indiana, just two years later, seven Black women founded Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. at Butler University in Indianapolis in the heart of Ku Klux Klan activity. These fearless women understood the notion that their assignment had always been greater with their founding motto, “Greater Service, Greater Progress.”
In 1922, this powerful sorority rose with fire and grace to provide a voice and a space for Black women in the face of the Klan Klonvocation which occurred in the same year of the sorority's establishment. Many terrorist KKK uprisings caused fear in the Black community. Founders Little, McClure, Whiteside, Marbury, Johnson, Redford, and Martin had enough! They organized and raised their collective voices amid suppression and subjugation by becoming a beacon of light focused on improving the quality of life for all. Progress was the destination, while service became the vehicle to get there.
As we look at this pending election, the most glaring issue on the ballot is the decency and integrity of America. Voter engagement is essential! We must reclaim the notion that the creators of our country established as they purported the lines, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...” We must remember that we have three branches of government that are not entrenched with oppression and hypocrisy. Our votes are a stance of accountability, faith, and trust that “WE, the people...” should be a present-day reality.
We cannot afford to be diverted and complacent in “free-ishness.” We cannot afford to pay the price of playing politics. It is our duty and call to action to engage all voters. It is a citizen’s privilege to vote and be heard. As Black people, we have spent multiple lifetimes fighting for all, while the win was only for some. We have been sidelined and forgotten, but we remain Black, brave, and bold all the way to the ballot! In honor of our ancestors who faced lynching, bullets, and bloodshed, we reclaim THE POWER OF THE VOTE!
Tiffany D. Hightower is the Executive Director of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation and proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.