Fall 2020, 50.5, pages: 335-351
Creating Space for Black Women’s Citizenship: African American Suffrage Arguments in the Crisis
While scholars have examined racial dynamics within the US suffrage movement, we have fewer rhetorical treatments of how Black citizens argued for suffrage, particularly for a Black public. This essay examines a 1915 symposium published in the Crisis, featuring 26 African American rhetors. It finds that even as these rhetors deploy available commonplaces of contemporary suffrage arguments, they also draw from racial experience to claim space for Black women’s citizenship within a body politic that figures the ideal citizen as male and white. These arguments, moreover, cleave along gender lines: the men predominantly argue from the topos of justice and ground their claims in abstract democratic principles; the women predominantly argue from expediency and ground their claims in embodied racial and gendered experience. In doing so, they challenge and reshape dominant expediency claims based on white supremacy and reassert the links between women’s suffrage and universal suffrage.