In 1920, Democrats had accused Brown of circulating a letter that suggested how the 19th Amendment had given “all women the right of the ballot regardless of color” after which urged “all the colored women of North Carolina to register and vote on November 2nd, 1920.” It was a name to motion: “The time for Negroes has come.”
White Democrats charged Brown with conspiring to oppose them on the polls. Only her white benefactors, who stepped as much as defend Brown, prevented a witch hunt. Brown ultimately deflected: “I do not hold, or endorse, the views” that had been printed, she stated. As a membership chief, she advocated for Black girls’s votes, however in Greensboro she disavowed them. There, politics demanded a merciless cut price: the abdication of voting rights in an effort to avoid wasting a faculty.
I attempted to think about Susie there. Perhaps the tears she shed that first yr in Greensboro weren’t spilled over lacking metropolis life. Perhaps she cried out of frustration. She was constructing a faculty dedicated to creating younger girls into full residents. Still, in Greensboro, heading to the polls or encouraging others to do the identical may threaten the way forward for Bennett.
What did she do subsequent? In that Raleigh studying room, I scoured voting returns beginning in 1926, on the lookout for any signal of what occurred there on Election Day. I hoped to search out Susie. Instead, I discovered nothing in any respect.
In North Carolina, nobody preserved the main points of ladies’s first votes. When the polls opened to them in 1920, nothing within the surviving paperwork tells whether or not Black girls managed to solid ballots. Docket books meant for that objective went unused. I sat within the state archives underneath the glare of florescent lights, taking all of it in. I’d by no means know the complete story of my grandmother’s voting rights. In my disappointment, the tears she shed almost 100 years in the past welled up in my eyes.
Combing by the pages of a 1978 interview, I lastly heard her voice as Susie mirrored on the vexed state of Black girls’s votes in Greensboro. In 1951, 25 years after she arrived there, a push for Black voting rights was waged brazenly when Bennett college students, working with the native Black-led Citizens Association, registered voters. Then, in 1960, Bennett college students and school organized an Operation Door Knock. Susie described it: “Faculty and students went out and knocked on doors and found out whether the people … in this area were voting, and followed it up by seeing that they registered and seeing that they voted.”