Thanks to Technology, Students During the Pandemic Stay in School. But Not All. That Must Change.

COVID-19 learning digital divide

A UNICEF report examines students who can continue their school remotely… and those who cannot.


As the COVID-19 pandemic raged worldwide, schools in nearly every nation closed, forcing their students to continue learning from home. The magic of internet technology has allowed these children to connect with their teachers and educational resources. However, the poorest children, those without access to digital technology, are being left behind.

In August, UNICEF provided 16 teenage girls around the world with cellphones to record how they and their families were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the second episode of the “Coping with COVID-19” series, Education Through a Girl’s Eyes, the girls were meeting the challenges of continuing their education.

A new UNICEF report, COVID-19: Are Children Able to Continue Learning Through School Closures?, addresses the concern that the poorest children unable to continue their schooling because digital technology is not available to their families. According to the report, “at least 463 million students around the globe remain cut off from education, mainly due to a lack of remote learning policies or lack of equipment needed for learning at home.” These technologies include internet service, radio, and television. Although more than nine of every 10 countries called for remote learning, not all students can be reached:

  • Students with access to computer and internet technology ranged from a little over 50 percent in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia to 6 percent in West and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Television-based remote learning had the highest potential of reaching students overall, from 86 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean to about 30 percent in West and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • At least 463 million, less than one-third of schoolchildren worldwide “cannot be reached by digital and broadcast remote learning programs enacted to counter school closures.”

Says the report, “The massive scale of school closures has laid bare the uneven distribution of technology needed to facilitate digital and broadcast remote learning at home, as well as the lack of systems to support teachers and caregivers in the safe, effective and secure use of technology for learning.” With that, television has the greatest potential of reaching these students.

And (from UNESCO), the increased reliance on digital technology raises concerns about digital safety and the protection of children online around the world.

For the United States, a Brookings Institution report cites Federal Communications Commission data that 21.3 million people lacked digital access in 2019.  Education Week reports that “a third of K-12 students aren’t adequately connected for remote learning.” And, according to PEW Research, “Some 15% of U.S. households with school-age children do not have a high-speed internet connection at home,” and nearly one in five teens are unable to finish their homework.

Too many children are being left behind!


Greenhorn Tells of Jewish Yeshiva Life After the Holocaust



According to the wall calendar, courtesy of Goldberg’s delicatessen, it was 1946. World War II had long ended, as far as the boys in a small, modest yeshiva in Williamsburg were concerned. Why, then, did Rabbi Ehrlich interrupt a perfectly good game of stick ball and call his pupils into their fifth-grade classroom for a meeting? Why is the rebbe dabbing his eyes and so choked with emotion that he is barely able to speak? Though one of the boys blames it on the boiled onions they had for lunch, it is clear that, for him, the pain of the war is still very much present, as it would be for the 20 boys from Poland he says will be joining the school. Not long afterwards, Reuben presented one of the boys, Daniel, to his roommates, Bernie and Aaron, the narrator of our story.

Aaron quickly introduced himself to the small, scared boy who was nervously clutching a small tin box. It is almost immediately apparent that Aaron is “different” from the rest. For one, Aaron was somewhat aware – more so than his peers – of the terrible sufferings of the Jews in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. After all, his parents in Lakewood, NJ (a close-knit Orthodox Jewish community to this very day), told him so. Second, Daniel was often at the mercy of endless teasing by his classmates because of his stuttering. Those same boys were no more sympathetic toward Daniel, asking why the “greenhorn” is so skinny and does not understand English. It is, therefore, fitting that it is the more compassionate Aaron who opened up communication with Daniel, using the tongue that united Jews throughout the Diaspora, Yiddish.

Daniel’s tin box. What could be inside, and why was he guarding it so closely? Everyone wanted to know, most of the boys for the sake of gossip and Aaron out of concern for the boy he sought to befriend. Tantalizing clues appear throughout the rest of the story. For example, Daniel read the tract in the Gemara about Ezekiel’s prophecy that in “the end of days,” a valley of bones would be brought to life, translating it from the Aramaic to Yiddish. More cruel teasing ensued, that day and the next. One night, while everyone else was sleeping, Daniel’s box fell to the floor with a metallic thud. Aaron respectfully put the box back under Daniel’s arm. However, the following day, a group of boys wrestled Daniel to the ground, and the box popped open. The rebbe picked up what looked like a rock and, with tears in his eyes, explained that the object was and proclaimed that it required a ritual burial.

In the end, however, Aaron invited Daniel to his parents’ home in Lakewood. Daniel preferred his new friend recite the prayer while he would bury the box and its precious contents. Aaron had finally found his voice and Daniel finally had a family. And Ezekiel’s prophecy may be fulfilled after all, albeit metaphorically.

This story is based on actual events, both during the Holocaust and the efforts of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) to have New York area yeshivas sponsor refugee survivors. The characters are modeled on actual people, as Anna Olswanger explains in the afterword. “Greenhorn” is a story that needs to be told; Ms. Olswanger does so with the sensitivity it needs. It’s a story of sadness and loss, as well as redemption and renewal. “Greenhorn” brings to mind several other books, mainly “Lily’s Crossing,” by Patricia Reilly Giff, in which a Holocaust survivor has much to teach youngsters who were safe in the US during that terrible period, as well as “The Alfred Summer” and its sequel, “Lester’s Turn,” by Jan Slepian, both of which deal with children with disabilities in a profound manner. Both these themes are very meaningful to me. This is a book that brings tears of joy and sadness (but not in a bad way!) to the eyes of even an older reader like myself, someone who cares so deeply about both the children of the Holocaust and children with disabilities. It is evident that Anna Olswanger feels the same way. This is a book I will indeed treasure.

Feng Shan Ho, the Chinese Diplomat Who Saved Thousands of Jews, A Preview

Feng Shan Ho Holocaust preview

Feng Shan Ho (1901-1997) was a Chinese Diplomat who saved thousands of Jews, offering them safe harbor in Shanghai, China. He is the subject of Harbor from the Holocaust, which is set to air on PBS stations on Tuesday, September 8. Photo: Yad Vashem, in the Public Domain

Few people have heard of Feng Shan Ho. He was  a Chinese diplomat for the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan. As Consul-General in Vienna during World War II, Mr. Ho risked his life and career to save thousands of Jews by issuing them visas, earning him the moniker the Chinese Schindler. Of course, his actions were against orders; in fact, he was recalled to China in May 1940.

The refrain is familiar. “For every visa we issued, two more applicants took its place,” he said. “As much as we did, there was always more to do. And I had begun to wonder if I had done anything at all. There were so many….”

Although Mr. Ho died in 1997, his actions were not recognized until 2000, when Yad Vashem honored him among “Righteous Among the Nations.” The organization offers a biography of Feng Shan Ho.

A new documentary, Harbor from the Holocuast, offers a history of Mr. Ho’s life. A trailer has been released:

Harbor from the Holocaust Trailer from Sousa Mendes Foundation on Vimeo.


This important film will air on PBS stations nationwide on Tuesday, September 8, 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Furthermore, on Sunday, September 6, the Sousa Mendes Foundation will hold a virtual program: Destination Shanghai. Meet the speakers, Manli Ho, Feng Shan’s daughter and an important Chinese journalist, and Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, who headed the Righteous Among the Nations Department at Yad Vashem, 1982 to 2007. This promising event will take place 4:00 to 5:15 p.m., Eastern Time. Registration is required.


Three Years into the Rohingya Catastrophe

Rohingya refugees

Rohingya refugees fled their native Myanmar in 2017. Here they await humanitarian aid at a camp at Cox’s Bazaar in neighboring Bangladesh. Photo by Zlatica Hoke, Voice Of America


This week marks a somber anniversary: the Rohingya genocide. Three years ago, the military forces of Myanmar started persecuting the country’s mostly-Muslim ethnic minority.

According to UNICEF, “When hundreds of thousands of terrified Rohingya refugees began flooding onto the beaches and paddy fields of southern Bangladesh in August 2017, it was the children who caught many people’s attention.” After all, nearly 60 percent of these refugees are children. UNICEF cites some 466,000 children in need of humanitarian assistance in Bangladesh. The refugee camp, Cox’s Bazaar, is the world’s largest, with more than one million souls languishing. They fled, according to ABC News, “a sustained, violent campaign of murder, rape and beatings that cleared hundreds of thousands from their land and burned their villages to the ground.” Another 362,000 Rohingya children in Myanmar require humanitarian aid. And to make matters worse, it’s the children who bear the brunt of COVID-19.

Since 1982, the Rohingya have been stateless, not recognized in Myanmar as citizens. Their voting rights were rescinded in 2015. Now, most are stuck in Bangladesh, which is struggling to do what it can.


It’s Genocide

A 1948 international treaty defines genocide as “as killing, harming, or seeking to prevent the births of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with intent to destroy them.” The U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights in 2018 declared that catastrophe of the Rohingya must meet the definition of ethnic cleansing. In 2020, another devastating ABC News report points out, the United States has yet to make this declaration.

Rohingya genocide

A new online exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum tells the story of the Rohingya genocide through the eyes of nine members of the ethnic group. The exhibit commemorates the third year of the humanitarian catastrophe.


The United States House of Representatives and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) have also made the declaration. Jieun Pyun of the Bush Institute recently spoke with Andrea Gittleman, program manager for the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. , about the Museum’s new exhibit, “Burma’s Path to Genocide.” This new online exhibition, “explores how Rohingya went from citizens to outsiders—and became targets of a sustained campaign of genocide” and to tell their story. “They are among the more than 700,000 Rohingya who have fled Burma since 2017. These stories show what their lives were like before and how decades of persecution culminated in genocide.” They are:

  • Haunted by Loss
  • Visible and Invisible Scars
  • Holding a Family Together
  • A Young Life Interrupted
  • Safeguarding Life
  • Remembering When They Belonged.

The museum plans to open a physical exhibition later in 2020. The Museum has also filed a legal brief to address the Genocide Convention’s obligation to the Rohingya.

“While the refugees in Bangladesh live in relative safety, they still face serious risks. The camps are overcrowded and refugees are not allowed to pursue livelihoods or use the internet to communicate, and access to formal education is very limited,” says Ms. Giggleman. “Recently, many refugees have tried to escape the camps on boats and have become stranded at sea, with other countries in the region refusing to permit them entry. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we fear that the population of genocide survivors are facing yet another grave threat.”


UNICEF Brings a Glimmer of Hope

UNICEF Radio Listener Clubs and Information and Feedback Centers empower Sofira and other Rohingya girls and women with knowledge, offering hope for a better future. As a recent photo essay bears witness, remarkable people in the sprawling camp are bringing happiness to themselves and others in the camp.



Jacob’s Life Matters


Black Lives Jacob Blake

Memorial artwork expressing Black Lives Matter takes shape in Palo Alto, Calif. Photo by Anna Eshoo, in the public domain


Enough, again

Yet another horrifying shooting of a Black man captured on cell phone video covers the cable news airwaves.

Only five months after the horrors of George Floyd’s death, we hear of another unarmed Black man being shot by a police officer. Jacob Blake.

And Ahmaud Abery. Breonna Taylor. Rayshard Brooks. Elijah McClain.

“How many times does this nation have to endure this?” asks Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey.

Of course, not all police are bad. In fact, most officers are good people, risking their lives to protect the public. No, the problem not just the one officer or police department. It is not just the police. The pathology lies much, much deeper. “We pray for a full reckoning of the systemic and inherent racism of our society, and for its elimination,” said Joe Biden. He’s right. This is what people across the United States and around the world have been protesting for.

This shooting occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But it could have been anywhere.

Did looting and vandalism occur in the wake of the shooting? Unfortunately, yes. Whether those engaged in those violent actions acted out of rage or opportunism, they should be dealt with in a court of law. Violence and destruction of property have no place in civilized society. Let’s deal with that as a separate concern and focus on the fact that an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back seven times.

“He had a bag full of presents,” a Anthony Lauderdale, a Kenosha alderman, said in an article in the New York Times. “He’s a family man. He takes good care of his kids.”

We will get to know more of Jacob in the time to come.

Three of Jacob’s children had to witness this horrifying act. Their trauma may never heal, but let us pray that Jacob will recover fully.

And let us pray – and, more important, work for the healing of our nation.

Again, enough

What Unites Us in Our Diversity Is Our Common Humanity

diversity humanity

A collection of dolls wear costumes from around of world, symbolizing diversity and our common humanity.


Our shared humanity is a them of which my Rabbi often speaks. At the end of Friday night service last week (via the magic of Zoom), she included a song a cantor they know composed recently. Steve Klaper part of an interfaith effort to spread the message of peace (Shalom, Salaam) among people of multiple faith traditions “to engage in creative service through music, art, education and outreach to the poor.”

“Ain’t no child to go hungry anymore / With so much that we do have here in this land that we all love / Ain’t no child to go hungry anymore.” Hazzan Klaper includes the full lyrics of his song with the video.




BringBackOurGirls 01 rFurthermore, in May, Steve reminded us in another video about the Nigerian girls of Chibok kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Finally, my Rabbi points out that Steve’s sentiments are reflected in the following lines by poet and artist Judy Chicago:

And then all that has divided us will merge,
And then compassion will be wedded to power,
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind,
And then both men and women will be gentle,
And both women and men will be strong,
And then no person will be subject to another’s will,
And then all who wish to be rich and free and varied,
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many,
And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance,
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old,
And then all will nourish the young,
And then all will cherish life’s creatures,
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth,
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

In the last blog post, girls around the world made a plea for equal treatment in education.


During the COVID-19 Crisis, Girls Around the World Look to the Future

Girls COVID-19 Future

“School on a Rainy Day” by Vinoth Chandar Picture in the public, via


Laetitia, a 15-year-old girl in Chad, points out a saying she has heard often: “To educate a girl is to educate a whole nation.”

This week marks the final episode of UNICEF’s Breathakingly beautiful, painfully said, but ultimately hopeful series, Coping with COVID-19, “The Future Through a Girl’s Eyes.”

As for telling the stories, “I have loved the experience of telling my story, because it allowed me to express myself and reach out to people,” says Makadidia, a 15-year-old from Mali. Though at first she felt stressed out knowing people would be watching her video and listening to her story. “I thought I wouldn’t be good enough,” she says. But over time, she learned to open up to people. “My advice to the young people watching this is to never lose hope, to believe in their dreams and to contribute to world development.”


Climate Change and COVID-19: Two Challenges at Once

During the fifth week of filming, the communities of many of the girls experienced flooding and other increasingly extreme weather events. We are reminded how fragile these communities are when their already limited resources are stretched even thinner on account of the pandemic.

Safina and Madhu, two 13-year-old girls from Nepal, describe how heavy rainfall led to flooding that damaged or destroyed homes and affected stored food, a precious commodity. Their families had hoped to use the money from their crops for household expenses. “But that dream is gone because we lost them.”

Antsa (16, of Madagascar) has positive thoughts. “When COVID-19 is over, something I want people to remember is the relationships they have with their families.”  “We must not forget to talk to each other and spend time together.”

“I still feel the same stress, fear, and anxiety,” says Makadidia. “When I think about COVID-19, I am really troubled. I have no idea how our lives will get back to normal.”


Education Is the Future – the Future Is Education

Zulfa (15, of Indonesia) graduated from junior high school, but without the fanfare earlier classes were afforded. She says she will remember a phrase she heard many times: “It’s better for us to keep our distance temporarily than to be apart forever.” She recognizes that many people have learned about the importance of health and sanitation. This, she says, includes eating a healthy diet, maintaining immunity, and exercising.

“Adolescent girls face many difficulties in their lives,” says Laetitia (15, of Chad). “Among these, one of the major problems they face is dropping out of school and getting married early,” continues Bijita (15, of India). “Parents are not giving permission to adolescent girls to study, learn any skill, or go outside their houses, says Madhu. And, reveals Sangamithra (15, India), “They are not in an environment where they can share their problems.”

“Teen girls are a valuable asset that deserves to be protected,” declares Zulfa. And Bijita hopes “every adolescent girl is safe and secure, has sound health, and is able to fulfill her dreams.”

Esta (15, of Niger) proclaims there should be no discrimination on account of gender, religion, tribe, or nation, “so that everyone can play their part to help society.” Education for all is essential.


The Girls Have Hope for Their Futures

Esta wants to help advise her nation’s government. “Children should be allowed to study, especially girls.” Antsa would like to see an end to early and forced marriage. Laetitia envisions taking an active part to put an end to gender inequality and the harmful practices it bring about. For that, girls will have to be educated like boys.

Bijita hopes the problems adolescent girls face today will disappear. “I wish they don’t have to drop out of school, get married early, or face any sexual violence.” Education will afford girls better jobs. “For this to happen,” she adds, “parents should help them out and our government should provide the necessary help.”

Sangamithra says that if her parents support her studying now, “I will be able to achieve my dreams and then get married later.”

Fanja (15, of Madagascar) wants to be a nurse “for the sake of the future” to help the many women who die in childbirth or of malaria.

Hamadou (15, of Niger) wants to finish her studies to become a doctor. “I want to help and save lives,” she says. So does Imoro (15, of Ghana). “I want to take good care of people in the future.”

Memunatu (15, of Ghana) aspires to become a journalist, as does Trisha (15, of Bangladesh). “As a journalist I want to help people,” she says. “Through reporting, I want to bring to light the problems people face.”


Their Messages to Us, the Adults

These 16 girls from 9 nations feel they have little or no voice in their communities. So what messages do they have to those of us watching their video diaries?

“I ask the adults… to protect and take care of their children, to understand that we, the children, have something to say.”

Zulfa “I hope everyone who has watched the videos I made can remember me and my stories… can remember what my dreams and desires are.”  “Don’t ever change your spirit and don’t ever get discouraged. … Never give up pursuing your dreams.”

“We must have hope and courage in everything we do in our lives, and we will overcome,” says Laetitia.

Bijita would like to tell the elders “to let their children study and help them fulfill their dreams and aspirations.”

And Antsa’s message is, “We, the youth, are going to build the future. Make their education a priority. Respect our rights.

Moreover, say the girls, “Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.”


Anyone seeking to help UNICEF with a donation can go here.

Coming January 2021: Janusz Korczak. Educating for Justice

Janusz Korczak Educating for Justice

Springer on its website announced the publication later this year of a monograph on the pedagogy of Janusz Korczak, Educating for Justice. The monograph will be available in late 2020 as a softcover edition and an e-book.

My colleague, Dr. Joop W.A. Berding, a respected authority on Janusz Korczak, informed me of a book he has written. Educating for Justice will be an important addition to the Springer Briefs on Key Thinkers in Education monograph series (ISSN: 2211-937X). This monograph will be available later this year in both softcover and e-book editions. I was able to review a draft of the book and offer the following preview:

Few educators deserve praise and recognition more than Janusz Korczak. Although we already have an excellent biography of the Old Doctor in Betty Jean Lifton’s King of the Children, Dr. Berding’s Educating for Justice explores offers fresh insights into how Korczak dedicated his highly innovative teaching in the pursuit of justice. These include an ethos of respect for the child (as well as the rights of the child), by means of active participation—which Korczak conveyed through his Children’s Court. As we learn in Educating for Justice, for Korczak, pedagogy both in the best and worst of times was more than an act of teaching, but one of advocacy and love for children everywhere.

Many Korczak scholars have praised Dr. Berdin’s book.  When the book is released for publication, I will be able to include a more in-depth review in this space.

Girls Around the World Face a Health Scourge. Then There Is COVID-19

female genital mutilation COVID-19 UNICEF

Even where it is not allowed by law, female genital mutilation is often the social norm, because it always has been. The practice is considered essential for marriage and preparation for womanhood. In the picture, “Fourteen-year-old Ami knew when other girls in her village (in the west African country of Burkina Faso) were being cut – she’d hear them scream. But now her community is abandoning the practice, and – unlike her mother when she was a child – Ami will not undergo female genital mutilation.” Picture by: Jessica Lea, in the public domain. Source:


On Friday, August 14, UNICEF published this, the fourth part of its Coping with COVID-19 series, “Inequality Through a Girl’s Eyes.” The children’s advocacy organization provided 16 girls in nine nations around the world with cellphones to record how they, their families, and their communities were handling the current pandemic emergency.


Madhu, a 13-year-old girl from Nepal broke her piggy bank to buy the essential supplies her parents could not afford. Like many parents, they found themselves unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, Madhu’s parents worry about her education. Will she forget all she has learned? With her siblings, “I make an effort to study together and enjoy ourselves.”

She is one of the lucky girls. As we learned during the second episode of Coping with COVID-19, gender inequality was already limiting the ability of many girls to have an education.

Sangamithra’s her father is searching for a job. The 15-year-old girl’s mother is volunteering for an NGO. She has borrowed money so she can care for her family. Next month is Sangamithra’s birthday. In years past, her parents used to buy her a new dress for the occasion. This year, they cannot. And Sangamithra won’t be able to go out to eat with her friends. “But it’s my birthday, so I will celebrate it happily,” she says.

Now, as some schools reopen, some girls feel the effects more than others. There is a very real threat that the virus could make gender discrimination and inequality even worse – creating another barrier for girls. Girls from countries in Africa and Asia confront one of the most harmful, at times deadly practices, female genital mutilation. According to UNICEF, at least 200 million girls and women around the world have undergone the procedure. In Indonesia, half of girls and women have experienced female genital mutilation. In Mali, the figure is an astonishing nine of 10 girls.

Adiaratou (15, of Mali) knows that the practice can lead to hemorrhaging during childbirth, death for them or the mother. She can contract HIV/AIDS during the procedure. “The consequences are very real for the girl,” says Laetitia (15, of Chad), who wants to be a lawyer to protect women’s rights. The authorities do not punish the parents who subject their daughters to the procedure to severe punishment.

Through all this, COVID-19 continues to pose great concerns. For Bijita (15,of  India) having to stay home from school at first seemed like a summer vacation. “However, as the lockdown continued, I started to feel bad,” she says. “I feel angry when I have to work at home.” She feels scared for her country and the many people who face problems because of the coronavirus. All the bad news scares her.

Antsa (16, of Madagascar) tries to remain positive. “I might be laughing, but the truth is that I’m really stressed about this right now,” she says.

Esta (15, of Niger) is calling on authorities to find a cure for the coronavirus. “And when it is found, it should be given to countries to use,” she says. And she poses a critically ethical question: Will countries like hers be granted access to the benefits of a cure? In her community, Esta ponders how a class with 85 students can follow the rules of safety. After all, as she points out, the government cannot even provide simple hand-washing stations. If the virus spreads further, schools will once again be closed.

Bijita (15, India) says, “Every girl like me should get equal rights like boys, in order to study, participate in sports, and explore our talents.”

And from Antsa, “Just because our gender is different, doesn’t mean that our rights are different.”


Elsewhere, UNICEF is calling for family-friendly policies, such as paid family leave and access to quality childcare, to prevent children from having to work. You can support the work of UNICEF here.

From Voting as a Black Woman to Voting for a Black Woman

black women vote rights

Harriet Tubman was to have adorned the $20 bill in 2016.


Five months ago, Elizabeth Warren announced she would suspend her bid for President of the United States. She joined the ranks of other smart, qualified women: Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gilibrand. That news was a grave disappointment. “You had a right to feel women were next,” said Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC.

women's rights suffragist

Kamala Harris is a senator from California.

Now, the speculation of who the presumptive Democratic nominee is to choose for his running mate is over. We have a woman candidate for Vice President, Senator Kamala Harris. She is smart. And she is Black.

Getting to having a Black woman on the ticket for a major political party was long in coming. The year 2020 marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, enshrining the right of women to vote. Passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, the act was ratified on August 18, 1920. Stanford University historian Estelle Freedman notes, however, that the event represents a milestone but not an endpoint.


Black Women and the Right to Vote

Ida B Wells lynching

Ida B Wells in an 1883 photo by Mary Garrity, which was restored by Adam Cuerden.

For Blacks, there was more at stake. The History Channel recently featured an article on five Black suffragists who “fought for the 19th Amendment – and much more.” With such familiar names as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were other, lesser-known suffragists also fighting racism and discrimination in the Jim Crow Era. They were as follows:

  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an orator second only to Frederick Douglass. She was also a poet, “Autumn Leaves,” and the first Black woman publish a novel, Iola Leroy. “You white women speak here of rights,” said Harper. “I speak of wrongs.”
  • Mary Ann Shadd Cary was the first Black woman to publish a newspaper, “The Provincial Freeman.” She used her legal training to fight for the right of women to vote, after the 15th Amendment extended the right to vote for Black men.
  • Mary Church Terrell created the civil rights group National Association of Colored Women.
  • Nannie Helen Burroughs advocated tirelessly against lynching and other forms of mob violence against Black people. An educator, Burroughs founded and ran the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, DC.
  • Ida B. Wells, who like Burroughs, struggled against lynching by exposing its evil as an investigative journalist. Her writings are collected in The Light of Truth, a critically important collection of historical documents.

In fact, the right to vote for Black Americans would take another four and a half decades, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Continuing the Good Fight 100 Years Later

The New York Times on Friday, August 7, published a beautiful article and photo essay portraying the descendants of pioneers in the struggle of civil rights. The piece, “Legacy of Suffrage: 100 Years Later, These Activists Continue Their Ancestors’ Work,” juxtaposes the march of Black Lives Matter protesters at Lafayette Square petitioning a sitting president with suffragists demanding the right to vote, holding a banner saying, “Mr. President, How long must women wait for liberty?” They are as follows:

  • Joyce Stokes Jones and Michele Jones Galvin, great-great- and great-great-great-grandnieces of Harriet Tubman. When eight-year-old Michele asked who she should write about for a history class presentation, her mother suggested Aunt Harriet. Back then, little was known of the fearless fighter for the freedom of slaves. Joyce and Michele set out to change that with their book Beyond the Underground: Aunt Harriet, the Moses of the People.
  • Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Ms. Duster teaches writing in Chicago, where Ida B. Wells settled. She is the author of Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells.
  • Pamela Swing and Anna Plotkin Swing, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Betty Gram Swing. Betty Gram and her sister Alice endured torture Occoquan Workhouse in Lorton, VA, while fighting for the right to vote. Her descendants continue the good fight at protests – the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter….
  • Susan Whiting, cousin of Susan B. Anthony. In 1872, Ms. Anthony was arrested… for voting. Ms. Whiting thought that a century later, in the late 1970s, women would be fully equal in society. She was, however, able to become the first female member of a management development team at Nielsen, the famous market research firm. Throughout her tenure, she sought ways in which she could ensure opportunities for other women. She also currently leads the board of the National Women’s History Museum.
  • Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

    Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass. Though slavery was outlawed in the U.S., Mr. Morris learned through a 2005 National Geographic article that forms of slavery continue elsewhere in the world. Sharing the commitment of his great-great-great-grandfather to eradicating slavery through the power of education, Mr. Morris founded the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. It is also fitting to note that Douglass was also one of 32 men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments, which called for universal suffrage. This year, a number of descendants of Frederick Douglass contributed their thoughts on the orator’s great speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

  • Marguerite Buckman Kearns, granddaughter of Edna Buckman Kearns. She is continuing her grandmother’s legacy by keeping alive the memories of lesser-known suffragists. Ms. Kearns considers herself a “storyteller for all these generations.”
  • Coline Jenkins, great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ms. Jenkins has honored the legacy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by donating her archive of papers and other family items to various cultural institutions, rescuing another collection of suffragist artifacts and donating that, and lobbying Congress for the National Votes for Women Trail.
  • Jessye Kass, great-great-granddaughter of Dora Lewis. Ms. Haas has followed Lewis’s footsteps by assisting in various social-justice and children’s advocacy causes throughout her career. The job that connects Ms. Kass the most closely to Lewis is the Cambridge Women’s Center, for which she helped buy the house where it is headquartered.
  • Rolulamin Quander and Carmen Quander, cousins of Nellie Quander, a Black suffragist. The cousins have worked tirelessly to preserve the legacy of one of Washington’s most prominent Black families; Nellie ensured that Black remained part of the dialog for the right of women to vote.


Ahead to the Past

This week also marks the three-year anniversary of the infamous Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, VA. (The trail of destructive hate the event left has been recently documented in a Southern Poverty Law Center report, “When the ‘Alt-Right’ Hits the Streets.”) Kamala Harris mentioned the event in her August 12 acceptance speech with Joe Biden. We must look ahead, and never lose sight of the Eye on the Prize.