Friday, June 25, 2021

Local News

Branford Celebrates 100th Year of Women's Right to Vote; Recognizes Racial Barrier Delays

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A group representing Suffragette 'Silent Sentinels' on the town green in Branford Aug. 26 during a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote. 

Pam Johnson/The Sound

A group representing Suffragette 'Silent Sentinels' on the town green in Branford Aug. 26 during a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

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Branford Tax Collector Roberta Gill-Brooks discussed voting suppression historically faced by women of color and the rising increase of their numbers in elective roles.

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Branford Tax Collector Roberta Gill-Brooks discussed voting suppression historically faced by women of color and the rising increase of their numbers in elective roles. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

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Silent Sentinels, Branford Green.

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Silent Sentinels, Branford Green. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

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Legacy Theatre CT’s Stephanie Stiefel Williams singing a stirring rendition of  singer Helen Reddy's 1971 anthem, 'I Am Woman.'

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Legacy Theatre CT’s Stephanie Stiefel Williams singing a stirring rendition of singer Helen Reddy's 1971 anthem, 'I Am Woman.' (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

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Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove welcomes those gathered to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Women's Right to Vote.

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove welcomes those gathered to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Women's Right to Vote. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

With a ceremony outside Town Hall and Suffragette "Silent Sentinels" the town green, Branford marked the 100th anniversary of Women's Right to Vote. As noted at several points during the event, it was an significant anniversary for women – but not all women, as racial barriers delayed and suppressed many minorities.

First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove greeted a small, socially distanced gathering at the steps of Town Hall backed by viewers spread out in small numbers on the town green. Before reading a Board of Selectmen's proclamation recognizing the centennial, Cosgrove stated Branford welcomes diversity of people and of thought.

"The true strength of our community is the diversity within it. The diversity not only of the people but the diversity of thought," said Cosgrove. "The diversity of those voices lead to a stronger community and a better society. That's something that every community should welcome, and I'm proud to say that Branford welcomes it; and it has built Branford to be the community that it is that we all love."

While the proclamation noted the Town's recognition of the women's right to vote gained in 1920, it also stated the 19th Amendment to the constitution didn't guarantee suffrage for all women. Native American women didn't gain the right until 1924; followed nearly 30 years later by Asian Pacific Islander Americans in 1952; and voter suppression continued to be experienced by African American women and Latin American women until legal support arrived for them in 1965 and 1972, respectively, via the Voting Rights Act.  The proclamation also noted the 19th amendment played an important role in advancing the rights of all women, including those active today in state and national government and running for office in "unprecedented" numbers.

Branford Tax Collector Roberta Gill-Brooks recounted historic females figures in black history who joined the fight for the right to vote more than a century ago but were treated with inequity, including that of none other than white leaders of female suffragette movement. She also described how the passage of the 19th Amendment ushered in  efforts to suppress black women's right to vote with mechanisms such as poll taxes, literacy tests and other barriers.

"For black women, our right to vote is only secured with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. So black women have only had the legally protected right to vote for half of the time as some other women," Gill-Brooks explained. "So here we, a century after the 19th Amendment was ratified; and black women are still in the forefront of voting rights and access and in America -- for voter suppression and other means of discrimination are alive and very, very, well. Therefore, the fight continues."

Gill-Brooks said the 100th anniversary also comes in the same year that women are running for elective office in record numbers, during a time when black organizers continue to protest and demand racial justice across the country and when Senator Kamala Harris, "...someone who all little brown and black girls are going to be looking up to, for a very long time," is making an historic run for the country's vice presidency.

"The fight of black suffragists stands as a reminder of how black women's fight for the ballot has been and continues to be about a more fundamental issue; that being access to political power," said Gill-Brooks. "While women, black or white, haven't yet obtained the highest levels of government that perhaps we should have, the fight continues -- and women are showing up and showing out like nothing this country has ever seen before. We're showing up at the big boy's table; and since we weren't necessarily being regularly invited to that that table, we're showing up and bringing our own chair, [a] head full of thoughts and ideas, and ready not only to lean in, but make moves."

"The world is going to need to get ready for women in charge, and that includes black women," Gill-Brooks concluded. "Behind every successful women is a man in shock. Behind every successful black women is a nation in shock, disbelief and suspicion. But I say this to each of you: buckle up, buttercup. Because we're coming. The black girls are coming, and we're bringing our magic with us."

Gill-Brooks' speech drew the day's biggest round of applause. She was thanked by the next speaker, Branford State Rep. Robin Comey (D, 102), who also recognized all of the "extraordinary and brave women that came before us in the fight for equality."

Comey said that, as one of 48 female lawmakers currently serving in the 187-member CT General Assembly, "...I couldn't be more humbled to honor the suffrage movement that paved the way for me and many others to be able to address you here today in this capacity. Not only did the 19th amendment allow women the right to vote – some women; but it set the foundation for what we continue to fight for today, which is equality."

Comey shared that the small group of women on the green dressed in white and holding "Vote" signs represented the suffrage movement's "Silent Sentinels," who innovated the use of silence as a "principled and strategic form of protest."

"For two and a half years, these picketers were harassed, arrested, jailed and brutally tortured -- including the use of forced feeding and beating -- for the right to vote," said Comey. "Let that sink in."

Carol Reimers, CT President of League of Women Voters discussed "...tireless effort of so many Connecticut women who fought for the right to vote." She recounted the CT Women's Suffrage Association start in 1869 and years of work toward gaining the vote for women; and also spoke about the founding of the League of Women Voters in 1920, six months before the 19th Amendment was ratified.

"The league began as a mighty political experiment designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters and use this power to participate in shaping public policy," said Reimers.

Reimers also drew attention to the voting right inequities faced by women of color following the 19th Amendment.

"While we are here today to mark a special 100th anniversary, we must also recognized [that] the women's suffrage movement failed women of color. It took many more years before Black, Latina and Native American women could vote," she said.

Reimers said the day's event was not only a remembrance ceremony, but also a call to all eligible voters to exercise their right vote.

Branford Town Clerk Lisa Arpin spoke about the state's provision for the Nov. 3, 2020 national election to mail all registered voters an optional application to vote by absentee ballot/mail (see related story for details).

The Aug. 26 ceremony was capped off with Legacy Theatre CT's Stephanie Stiefel Williams singing a stirring rendition of a song made famous in 1971 by singer Helen Reddy, "I Am Woman." To see a video of Stiefel Willams' performance, visit The Sound on Facebook @thesoundct





Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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