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For women and voting, the fight isn't over

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

The Civil War was over, the Union had won, and the burning question was how emancipated people would be incorporated into the fractured country, Rachel Hartigan writes for NatGeo. Women wondered whether that solution would include them.

For a time, suffragists and abolitionists were united in their goal to be treated as full citizens of the United States.

“We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity,” poet and novelist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper told suffragists in 1866 in New York City.

White women gasped when Harper described the inhumane treatment she received after her husband died suddenly and all of their property was taken away from her. She recounted the brutality she had experienced as a black woman traveling by streetcar and train. Harper argued that the rights of African Americans and of women could not be disentangled. Journalist Ida B. Wells (pictured above left) later argued for the same things, a cause that her great-granddaughter Michelle Duster (above right) adopted.

But the suffragists and abolitionists split over whose rights came first.

On August 26, 1920, the U.S. certified that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified by the required 36 states and it became the law of the land: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The 19th Amendment did not, however, guarantee any woman the vote. Instead, laws reserving the ballot for men became unconstitutional. Women would still have to navigate a maze of state laws—based upon age, citizenship, residency, mental competence, and more—that might keep them from the polls, historian Martha Jones, author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, writes for Nat Geo.

It would be another 45 years, 100 years after the end of slavery, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would guarantee Black women full access to the ballot.

Even today, on the cusp of a woman being selected as a Democratic vice presidential candidate, the disenfranchisement of voters and the fight for voting rights endures. “A resurgence of voter ID laws, the shuttering of certain polling places, and the purge of voter rolls in some states following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that rolled back provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have deprived both men and women of color of the right to vote,” Jones writes.

“Voting rights in America have always been borne of struggle,” she adds. “The battles women fought 100 years ago—for a constitutional right and against segregationist and discriminatory Jim Crow laws in the South—echo in 2020 as American women continue to work against voter suppression and for full access to the polls.”

Pictured below: Winter BreeAnne, a student at Howard University, who will be old enough to vote for president for the first time this fall. She says she and others must do so; otherwise, “we are relinquishing a lot of political power.”

Note: I'll be talking with historian Martha Jones and activist Michelle Duster today at 2 p.m. ET at our
Women of Impact Facebook page (sign up now; the recorded talk will be at this link as well).

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Today in a minute

Freedom for all: A record 25 percent of the 122 million voters in America’s 2018 midterm elections were Black, Asian or Latino. The Voting Rights Act, enacted 55 years ago Thursday, was a reason, Erin Blakemore writes for Nat Geo. Provisions of the act have been weakened in recent years, but the gains in electoral participation were the intention of the law, which sought to stop voting suppression of American citizens of color by whites. Former President Barack Obama has sought to close loopholes in election procedures, and rename the strengthened bill the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

The second city: Nagasaki wasn’t even on the initial list of U.S. targets. Nonetheless, the port city, crucial to Japan’s opening to trade, became only the world’s second—and last—city to endure a nuclear bombing, 75 years ago yesterday. In fact, the city of Kokura, home to the Japanese army’s arsenal, was the intended target, but persistent cloud cover there prompted the plane, fatefully, to switch course, mid-flight, for Nagasaki, Nat Geo’s Amy Briggs writes. When the bomb detonated, as many as 70,000 people were killed almost instantly. Three days earlier, a U.S. A-bomb instantly killed some 200,000 people in Hiroshima.

Preserving teak: About half of the wild teak left on Earth grows in Myanmar. For a century, loggers have made inroads in the nation’s northern jungles, Nat Geo’s Paul Salopek reports. Many of the felled trees are shipped illegally to China, India, and Europe. “We are trying to save the trees that are left, but it’s late,” says Than Tun Aung, a retired geography teacher whose small environmental group, Mawlaik Network, is trying to stop illegal logging in his isolated region. Read Paul’s report.

R.I.P Helen Jones Woods: She was a trombonist in what Downbeat magazine called “America’s number one all-female orchestra.” Woods and the biracial International Sweethearts of Rhythm played the Apollo and Wrigley Field, and played alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Yet the Mississippi-born Woods never made much from the band, went back to school, and turned to a career in nursing for 30 years. She died of COVID-19 in Sarasota, Florida, the New York Times reports. She was 96.

Instagram photo of the day

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Moonshadow: Photographer Muhammed Muheisen caught the sturgeon moon rising behind the ancient temple of Poseidon last August. The temple, in Cape Sounion, Greece, dates to 444 B.C. Following two months of lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Greek government reopened ancient sites on May 18 to visitors.

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The big takeaway

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The Great Wall? That’s what villagers of China’s Loess Plateau thought for years about the crumbling walls nearby. Instead, archaeologists have found the walls date back 4,300 years, part of a once-magnificent fortress city that predates Chinese civilization in the region. Also found: a 230-foot-high pyramid and an inner sanctum with painted murals, jade artifacts—and gruesome evidence of human sacrifice, Brook Larmer writes for Nat Geo. The Neolithic center had art and technology that would influence Chinese dynasties. Pictured above: Archaeologists have discovered 80 severed heads in pits under the city walls. All the victims were teenage females who may have been sacrificed.

Watch: “China’s Pompeii,” part of a three-part series on Ancient China, debuts in the U.S. on Tuesday at 10/9c on National Geographic.

In a few words

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The last glimpse

From a sacred lake, a surprise: A cylinder of gold. A miniature llama. Divers found them (pictured, above right) encased in a small offering box, intact, 18 feet below the surface of Lake Titicaca in South America. The discovery of the 500-year-old box (above left), made of a local volcanic stone and once caked with blood, offers clues to the belief system of the Incas, A. R. Williams writes for Nat Geo. The Incas built more than 80 temples on an island in the lake, where their origin myth said the sun god was born and their primordial ancestors emerged from a rock.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse has selected the photos. Thanks to Janey Adams, Kimberly Pecoraro, and Amy McKeever for their contributions. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and happy trails.