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Martha Jones' "Vanguard": Black women and the fight for the vote

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Dr. Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, Professor of History, and a Professor at the SNF Agora Institute at The Johns Hopkins University. (photo courtesy JHU)

On Tuesday (January 11), President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Atlanta to speak about the importance of voting rights, and the need for federal legislation to overcome the dozens of state laws that have been enacted and the hundreds of laws that are being considered to restrict voting.

Before the President spoke, Vice President Kamala Harris advocated for an end to the filibuster that might clear the path for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. And then, President Biden also called for changes to the filibuster that would make passage of the voting rights legislation possible. This was the first time he had taken that position publicly. It’s a position that is not shared by at least two members of the Democratic caucus. How either piece of legislation actually gets passed remains an open question.

Today on Midday, a conversation about an important and often overlooked dimension in the history of voting rights: the long fight for Black women’s suffrage. Tom's guest is the acclaimed legal and cultural historian, Martha S. Jones. She has written a broad, insightful survey of the unsung heroes of the movement for equality, a movement that started two centuries ago, and which includes scores of remarkable women whose importance and impact are made clear by Dr. Jones’ compelling narrative.

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Published by Basic Books/Hachette Book Group

The book is called Vanguard:  How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.  Now out in paperback, Prof. Jones' latest book has earned numerous awards, including the L.A. Times Book Prize for History.

Dr. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. She’s the author of three books and an editor of a collection of essays called Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women. 

Dr. Jones is also the director of the Hard History at Hopkins Project. The Hard History Project aims to closely and honestly examine the history of this world-renowned institution, and reckon with the findings. Those findings are sometimes troubling.

Two years ago, in a Washington Post opinion piece, Dr. Jones presented evidence that contradicted a long-held view of her university’s namesake. Her research led the university to confirm that Johns Hopkins, long thought to be an anti-slavery abolitionist, owned slaves. Six months later, a group of scholars questioned Dr. Jones’ conclusions, and the debate on this issue continues.

And in a related story, last week the Washington Post reported on a new database its staff has compiled documenting more than 1,700 members of Congress from the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries who enslaved people.

Dr. Martha S. Jones joins us for the hour, on Zoom, from Washington, D.C..

Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)
Malarie is Midday's Supervisory Producer.
Rob is Midday's senior producer.