“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, colour or previous condition of servitude.” Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
For a few moments, as I made my way to the polls and focused my mind on Cox and Harding, I forgot about my black skin and the dismembered bodies of my brothers adorned with the sign “this nigger voted”.
I must’ve been lost deep within this imaginary world, because soon enough I became convinced that I was a white woman. I’d fooled myself into thinking that I was the one who baked the cakes for the big suffrage meetings the white ladies always talked about, but never invited us black girls to. I dreamt of the celebrations they would’ve had when women were given the right to vote and I swear it felt like I was there, instead of scrubbing some white lady’s floor.
As I walked to the polls, I stroked what I thought was my fair white skin and patted down the soft blonde curls I’d always wanted. It was so real that I almost forgot the painful blisters on my feet rubbing against my tired worn out shoes. I even tried to repress the memory of that fat sweaty driver closing the bus door in my face, because there were no more Negro seats available.
My dumb ass was so lost in this delusion that I’d walked for more than 5 miles to the polls, with the hot Memphis sun beating down on my back. I probably looked a mess, but no-one could tell me nothing. How could they when my daddy was a respected white man with lots and money and land? He’d never been a tired labourer whose faith had been chipped away by every slur, beating and arson attack thrown at him. In my fantasy my mother was a lady of leisure who wore clothes made from the finest silks and jewellery worth thousands of dollars. She didn’t clean anyone’s floors or avoid the gaze of white men, because their stare bought back memories of them brutalising her fair black skin.
And me, well I was a Southern belle. A young pale beauty off to vote for the man I wanted to be the next President of the United States. The country that had treated my people with such dignity.
Then suddenly I saw them. The crowd of white folks gathered outside the building where I thought I was going to put a cross next to my future President’s name. They dragged me kicking and screaming out of my Caucasian dreams. As they held a bloodied Negro man up by the scruff of his neck and pushed around what must’ve been his wife, I knew that I’d been wrong. Hell, if I’m honest, I knew that I’d made a mistake as soon as I left my house that morning.
Suddenly, the fair skin, blonde curls and wealthy daddy started to disappear as reality hit. I couldn’t do anything but turn on my heels and run. I kept running until I couldn’t hear the screams of “nigger bitch” anymore. I ran until I couldn’t see that man’s broken jaw or the helplessness on his wife’s face. I ran until I remembered who I was and what I’d never be.
A black woman’s suffrage.
Written by Shaurna Cameron