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2020 Scholar: Martha S. Jones

Wednesday, August 19 – Friday, August 21
1–2 p.m. EDT online via Zoom (REGISTER HERE)

THE RIGHT TO VOTE?: Why Constitutional Amendments Have Never Been Enough

Overarching theme:

The COVID-19 pandemic is only the most recent of forces to put the voting rights of Americans on the front lines and at risk. In 2020   a year in which we mark 100 years of the 19th Amendment (women's suffrage) — public health demands mix with the insistence that Black Lives Matter in scenes that make plain how no one in the U.S. is guaranteed the right to vote. This seminar explores the historical antecedents of today's voting rights to shed light on who will be at the polls in the November 2020 presidential election, and how they will get there

Day 1: 

We will examine race, racism and voting rights, a story that begins with the disenfranchisement of African American men in the Early American Republic and comes forward through the 15th Amendment of 1870, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the voter suppression of today.

Suggested readings:

Day 2:

On Day 2, we will look at voting rights from the perspective of American women, starting with early calls for women's rights, to the disappointments of the post-Civil War era, the road to the 19th Amendment. The story does not end there, of course, as too many American women — especially women of color — still could not vote after 1920

Suggested readings:

Day 3:

Lastly, we will consider how these two stories of voting rights — of race and gender — have come together in 2020 in the political power being exercised by African American women. 2008 marked a turning point as Black women became influential and visible members of the body politic: as candidates, party operatives, commentators and voters. We will understand how the women who may make the difference in November 2020 — Georgia's Stacey Abrams, California's Kamala Harris, Massachusetts' Ayanna Pressley and more — have emerged out of a 200 year-long insistence that race and gender should not arbitrate power in American politics.

Suggested readings:


About the Facilitator

Jones Martha 1045am 081820

Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History at The Johns Hopkins University. She is a legal and cultural historian whose work examines how black Americans have shaped the story of American democracy. 

Jones holds a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and a J.D. from the CUNY School of Law. Prior to her academic career, Jones was a public interest litigator in New York City, recognized for her work as a Charles H. Revson Fellow on the Future of the City of New York at Columbia University.

Professor Jones is the author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (Basic Books 2020), Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press 2018), and All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture 1830-1900 (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and is a co-editor of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (University of North Carolina Press, 2015), together with many important articles and essays.

Professor Jones is recognized as a public historian, frequently writing for broader audiences at outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, USA Today, Public Books, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Time, the curatorship of museum exhibitions including “Reframing the Color Line” and “Proclaiming Emancipation” in conjunction with the William L. Clements Library, and collaborations with the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the Charles Wright Museum of African American History, the Southern Poverty Law Center, PBS, Netflix, and Arte (France).

Professor Jones currently serves as a President of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians and on the Society of American Historians Executive Board.