(This speech is printed with permission from the author. Kayley gave this talk at the Women’s Event at the 400 Block of Wausau on August 15, 2020.)


My name is Kayley McColley. I am 20 years old. I am a nursing student at Northcentral Technical College and I work as a behavioral health technician at North Central Health Care. I am honored to be here today and have the opportunity to share this historic moment with you all. It calls for celebration, but for myself, this commemoration also produces feelings of sadness. This is because, for Black women, the 19th amendment didn’t end their fight to have voting rights. In 1920, many Black women showed up to the polls and were turned away. No Black American women gained the vote that year.


We cannot celebrate today without also acknowledging how black suffragists were kept from the main movement. The white women who were at the head of the movement were fearful that including Black women in the movement would make people withdraw their support. There were times where the discrimination was obvious; in 1913 organizers of a women’s suffrage parade in Washington D.C. made Black women march in the back. Sometimes, the exclusion was more covert, like when The National American Woman Suffrage Association, formed in 1890, declined to include black women or suffrage groups in its ranks. It wasn’t until decades later and tireless efforts of civil rights activists that Black Americans finally secured their right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented Black people from exercising their right to vote.


And yet, 100 years after the passage of the 19th amendment and 55 years after the Voting Rights Act, there is still so much work to do for the advancement of Black women. Black women are, in so many contexts, the afterthought. Black women have always had to pave their way and, most times, do it with nothing but sheer willpower. For example, we just reached Black Women’s Equal Pay Day on August 13. That means 226 days into the calendar year of 2020; Black Women have caught up to what their white male counterparts made in 2019. We had to work 226 extra days at the same job to earn the same amount of money as a white man. An influential Black woman who comes to mind for me is Mary Church Terrell. She was one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a founder of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), as well as a leading figure in the Suffrage Movement and an activist against racial segregation. Mary Church Terrell said, “A white woman has only one handicap to overcome – that of sex. I have two – both sex and race. Colored men have only one – that of race. Colored women are the only group in this country who have two heavy handicaps to overcome, that of race as well as that of sex.”


Black women before me like Mary made it possible that two years ago, I was able to vote for the first time as a young, Black woman. I am the hope that these brave, tenacious, resilient Black women were dreaming about. Not only can I vote, but here I am standing before you all speaking to you on stage today to urge you to do this:







Space must be created with intentionality for Black women to lead, be included, and be uplifted. As with any civil rights movement, what is the purpose of it if we are not going to rally around the most marginalized members of our community? When Black women win, it is a boost for virtually every segment of society.


Today we are marching to celebrate women’s right to vote, but tomorrow and going forward, there are other marches taking place and those are for black lives. Who would I be if I didn’t fight today for Black women and girls with the same determination that Black women before me did? I am indebted to their perseverance. Who would any of us be if we don’t stand with Black women right here, right now when they need our support, especially because they were not supported 100 years ago? Let’s rectify this mistake and stand with Black women today and every day. We need white women to be a source of support for Black women, not a participant — whether conscious or not — in their continued oppression.


Just because we carry the double burdens of racism and sexism well, doesn’t mean they aren’t heavy. So, help me carry it. Help us shoulder it. For Sandra Bland. For Pamela Turner. For Korryn Gaines. For Brenna Taylor. For the Black women who have been victims of police brutality. For Black women dealing with sexism and racism in the workplace while making 61 cents on the dollar and shouldering the burden of low wage work with tireless dignity. For the Black mothers dying in childbirth at three times the rate of white women. For the Black girls comprising over 40% of the domestic sex trafficking victims in the U.S. For the Black women who don’t have a voice right now, but need to be heard. For Black women who have been fighting for their humanity, their safety, and their lives since the founding of our country. For all Black women.


So today, let’s celebrate the progress we have made. 100 years ago, the 19th amendment was passed; just this week, Kamala Harris, a Black and Indian-American woman and the daughter of two immigrants, became the first woman of color to be nominated for vice president to a major party ticket. That’s another moment in history to commemorate. It let us also know that we have to get to work. This fight is far from over. My hope is that 100 years from now, a young lady, maybe just like me, will be able to see how we stood together as one, as a sisterhood, to ensure liberation for all of us.