In August, it was the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted women the legal right to vote after 70 years of tireless effort. One hundred years ago in 1920, white women gained the right to vote but there were still significant barriers to voting for other women. And even though the Constitution said that men who had been formerly enslaved had the right to vote, in practice many were still excluded from voting until the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The multi-cultural team at the nonpartisan Key to Community project grappled with how to observe this occasion. One of the Key to Community team members, Faye Combs, had a great idea – to honor Betty Reid Soskin, a 99 year old civil rights icon and author of Sign My Name to Freedom. In her 80’s, Betty started serving as a Park Ranger at Richmond’s Rosie the Riveter National Park, sharing our country’s complicated history in a way that helps people gain a fuller picture of what has happened. At our August 22 event, we were inspired by Betty’s life story, spanning an enslaved great-grandmother up to her own national recognition as one of the “extraordinary ordinary” people who persists for positive change. Betty showed us how to look back at the progress that has been made and what remains to be done as we look forward. Scroll down to watch the video of the August 22 event: 100 Years of Women Voting and Leadership.
When asked what she wanted for her 99th birthday, Betty said: “I hope people will vote.” In a very happy coincidence, her birthday happened to fall on National Voter Registration Day, September 22. Betty generously offered to do a joint celebration: Sign My Name to Freedom National Voter Registration Day and 99th birthday party. Our friends at Richmond library’s LEAP adult literacy program took the lead in hosting the event. Key to Community provided information about how to register to vote and, again, Betty read from her book, Sign My Name to Freedom: A Memoir of a Pioneering Life, and inspired us all.
"I don't think there's ever been an election that's more important than this one, ever, since a great experiment began in 1776.” - Betty Reid Soskin