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Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

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The epic history of African American women's pursuit of political power -- and how it transformed America. In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women's movement did not win the vote for most black women. Securing their rights required a mov The epic history of African American women's pursuit of political power -- and how it transformed America. In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women's movement did not win the vote for most black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own. In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women's political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of black women—Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer, and more—who were the vanguard of women's rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.


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The epic history of African American women's pursuit of political power -- and how it transformed America. In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women's movement did not win the vote for most black women. Securing their rights required a mov The epic history of African American women's pursuit of political power -- and how it transformed America. In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women's movement did not win the vote for most black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own. In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women's political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of black women—Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer, and more—who were the vanguard of women's rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.

30 review for Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Schulman

    Essential read that will permanently transform popular myths about women's rights and women's suffrage by illuminating the individual Black women and the tropes and trends in the history of the US Black women's movement that are still at play to win full access to the vote. Essential read that will permanently transform popular myths about women's rights and women's suffrage by illuminating the individual Black women and the tropes and trends in the history of the US Black women's movement that are still at play to win full access to the vote.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    I received an advance reader copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review via netgalley and the publishers. Vanguard is a non-fiction book detailing the fight that black women have fought for decades for basic rights. I loved how detailed this book was and although Martha S Jones talks about famous names who helped shape history such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, she also talks about less famous activists who no matter how small a detail, helped shape blac I received an advance reader copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review via netgalley and the publishers. Vanguard is a non-fiction book detailing the fight that black women have fought for decades for basic rights. I loved how detailed this book was and although Martha S Jones talks about famous names who helped shape history such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, she also talks about less famous activists who no matter how small a detail, helped shape black womens rights through time. This is such an important read, especially as the world stands today with recent happenings across the globe.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sara Broad

    "Vanguard" by Martha Jones is a nonfiction novel about how Black women through America's history fought for political power. While Jones writes about some of the famous Black female activists like Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Harriet Tubman, she also writes about the many Black women who fought for rights who never made the front pages. As a native Philadelphian, it was really interesting to me to read about the activism that occurred here over the past several hundred years. It is als "Vanguard" by Martha Jones is a nonfiction novel about how Black women through America's history fought for political power. While Jones writes about some of the famous Black female activists like Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Harriet Tubman, she also writes about the many Black women who fought for rights who never made the front pages. As a native Philadelphian, it was really interesting to me to read about the activism that occurred here over the past several hundred years. It is also important to read about how the intersection of race and gender made it more difficult for women to earn many of the human and civil rights to which they are entitled. While the ending cuts to current times, I would have liked to read more about Black women's activism over the last few decades. Overall, this was a really interesting read and makes it clear that there is so much more we should be learning in history class.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amanda | District Reads

    Out Sept 8th, this masterpiece highlights the work of Black women, who are more often than not at the forefront of major movements, their essential grassroots work exploited for political gain or taken for granted by major political parties. It reveals real truths about the women’s suffrage movement, which was overwhelming white-led. While they profited off the work of their Black sisters, many white women in the movement furthered their own rights over that of Black women, using the white fear o Out Sept 8th, this masterpiece highlights the work of Black women, who are more often than not at the forefront of major movements, their essential grassroots work exploited for political gain or taken for granted by major political parties. It reveals real truths about the women’s suffrage movement, which was overwhelming white-led. While they profited off the work of their Black sisters, many white women in the movement furthered their own rights over that of Black women, using the white fear of Black communities to push their aims. But enough of that - the point isn’t to center white women in this historical narrative - this book is not about them and shouldn’t be. This history is the story of women’s rights from the perspective of Black women, who fought tooth and nail for the ballot, and their remarkable resilience in the face of intimidation and murder by a white majority determined to keep them down. Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer. Just a few names you get to learn more about, names that are rarely, if ever, found in history textbooks. The battle for women’s equality owes them a huge debt, one that’s yet to be repaid. My only regret when reading this is that it doesn’t go into the history of Black women-led activism in the last few decades, but this is a 350+ page book so I totally get it. If you’re interested in learning more about Black women’s political badassery, I’ll share a few resources in my Linktree (in bio). Please, please pick this one up. If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s fucked. Thank you to Netgalley Read Now and Basic Books for the opportunity to read this. As always, if I missed the mark in this review, I appreciate any call outs or learnings.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Layburn

    3.5 stars While interesting in its own right, Jones’ work is even more compelling when read during our current climate. Equal parts frustrating & hopeful, Jones presents intriguing parallels between our present day fight against police brutality/for racial equality & the historical battle of black women for the right to vote- the details may be different, but the challenges, efforts, and goals, are remarkably similar. An interesting and timely work. This ARC was obtained through Edelweiss, with thank 3.5 stars While interesting in its own right, Jones’ work is even more compelling when read during our current climate. Equal parts frustrating & hopeful, Jones presents intriguing parallels between our present day fight against police brutality/for racial equality & the historical battle of black women for the right to vote- the details may be different, but the challenges, efforts, and goals, are remarkably similar. An interesting and timely work. This ARC was obtained through Edelweiss, with thanks to Basic Books/Hachette, in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    The structure of this book relies on a series of biographies to build a picture of the role of Black women in politics. I learned a ton about these women--some were previously unfamiliar to me, others I'd only known in a very specific role (like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper as a poet) whose accomplishments went so much further. That said, it often felt more like a collective biography rather than an overarching history, and I wish I had more meat that comes with a wider lens. It felt a little li The structure of this book relies on a series of biographies to build a picture of the role of Black women in politics. I learned a ton about these women--some were previously unfamiliar to me, others I'd only known in a very specific role (like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper as a poet) whose accomplishments went so much further. That said, it often felt more like a collective biography rather than an overarching history, and I wish I had more meat that comes with a wider lens. It felt a little like jumping from A to B to C to B to D to A to C, etc. This book did broaden my scope of history as it's not taught to us in school, and I hope to read more dedicated biographies and memoirs of these (and other) trailblazing women.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    In a country that is continually having to reckon its historic ideals with its history of racism and sexism, the lives of black women both in the past and in our present time illustrate how all of these lines converge. In this wonderful corrective to the historic record, Martha Jones details how black women were at the forefront, the vanguard, of this country’s striving for greater equality for African-Americans and women. Starting with a prologue where she describes the history of the women in h In a country that is continually having to reckon its historic ideals with its history of racism and sexism, the lives of black women both in the past and in our present time illustrate how all of these lines converge. In this wonderful corrective to the historic record, Martha Jones details how black women were at the forefront, the vanguard, of this country’s striving for greater equality for African-Americans and women. Starting with a prologue where she describes the history of the women in her family’s struggle for political rights in America, Prof. Jones sets the tone and the theme of the book, noting how black women’s current prominence in politics did not appear out of nowhere, but they stand on the shoulders of black women who struggled for equality in their churches, through abolition work, and through the push for suffrage for women, white and black, in the 20th century. There are a lot of historic figures in here that I was not aware of, which made it difficult for me to focus in the early pages. But, as Prof. Jones’s narrative moves along and more prominent figures such as Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells begin to make an appearance, this book really begin to trick up steam and her themes start to come into focus more clearly. Despite history too often brushing over the contributions women of color have made, Prof. Jones makes a compelling case in this book for why understanding the past struggles of black women can help us better understand prominent black women today such as Stacey Abrams and Sen. Kamala Harris. It took me a bit of time to war up to this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and give it high praise for highlighting the contributions of extraordinary black women who I was woefully ignorant of. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested learning more about great the struggle for equality in America through a new historic lens.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shazia

    This is a perfectly fine overview of black women's roles in the fight for equality. However, it is more or less just a documentation of various black women's political activities since the 1860s. I would have far preferred a book with a strong thesis, which this lacks. It also doesn't delve deeply enough into any individual woman to have the pleasures of a great biography. In the end, it might be a good reference book for getting started, but I'm looking for the author who digs in more deeply - This is a perfectly fine overview of black women's roles in the fight for equality. However, it is more or less just a documentation of various black women's political activities since the 1860s. I would have far preferred a book with a strong thesis, which this lacks. It also doesn't delve deeply enough into any individual woman to have the pleasures of a great biography. In the end, it might be a good reference book for getting started, but I'm looking for the author who digs in more deeply - one way or another.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    While this held information I was interested in, I found the style difficult to engage with. Very loosely structured, Jones wanders widely through time and location with few road signs. The focus to bring in the names and stories of as many women as possible obscures the greater arc of history, which is my interest. Lack of detail and a plethora of jargon terms and catchwords added to my overall muddle. There is some interesting information in this book and I think, with the use of an index, it While this held information I was interested in, I found the style difficult to engage with. Very loosely structured, Jones wanders widely through time and location with few road signs. The focus to bring in the names and stories of as many women as possible obscures the greater arc of history, which is my interest. Lack of detail and a plethora of jargon terms and catchwords added to my overall muddle. There is some interesting information in this book and I think, with the use of an index, it could be used nicely as “who’s who” of prominent African-American women through our history. (I assume the written version has one.) I listened to this on audio-book with Mella Lee narrating. I found the reading style over-dramatic and emotional and never got fully used to it. My lack of engagement due to the writing and reading styles caused me to take a long time to get through this, so much so that my audiobook library check-out expired and I had to wait to go back to it. The long break wasn’t helpful to engagement. It was worth going back to though and I am glad that I finished it. I feel like a have a vague foundation of knowledge about black women in politics that I hope to build on.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tina Izguerra

    Martha S. Jones' "Vanguard" is an essential and much-needed history on the black women's movement for equality. We've all read plenty about the suffragettes but nothing, and I mean nothing has ever been taught in the classroom about the role of black women during this period. "Vanguard" attempts to fill this gap, ushering in a new era in which the ENTIRE story of women's rights can be learned through the eyes of black women, rather than the white perspective. It is very well written, and I look Martha S. Jones' "Vanguard" is an essential and much-needed history on the black women's movement for equality. We've all read plenty about the suffragettes but nothing, and I mean nothing has ever been taught in the classroom about the role of black women during this period. "Vanguard" attempts to fill this gap, ushering in a new era in which the ENTIRE story of women's rights can be learned through the eyes of black women, rather than the white perspective. It is very well written, and I look forward to purchasing the book when it is released.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Aarti

    Great history of how black women have fought for rights for themselves and others over centuries in the United States. Often at great risk to themselves and with very little hope of success. Important to keep that perspective in these trying times. Nice companion to A Black Women’s History of the United States.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Pyke

    Most agree that Black Women like Stacey Abrams exercised an outsized influence in the 2020 Elections and in the recent special election for Senate in Georgia. Historian and John Hopkins University Professor Martha S. Jones’s new book Vanguard shows us that Abrams and other powerful Black women come from a very long tradition of strong and community minded women. Many of these women began as leaders in their churches, becoming powerful and celebrated speakers. 2020 marked the centennial celebrati Most agree that Black Women like Stacey Abrams exercised an outsized influence in the 2020 Elections and in the recent special election for Senate in Georgia. Historian and John Hopkins University Professor Martha S. Jones’s new book Vanguard shows us that Abrams and other powerful Black women come from a very long tradition of strong and community minded women. Many of these women began as leaders in their churches, becoming powerful and celebrated speakers. 2020 marked the centennial celebration of the enactment of the 19th Amendment, which states that a citizen’s suffrage can’t be denied “on account of sex.” But most of the celebrations of the achievement of a woman’s right to vote focused on white women suffragists. Jones’ book reveals the fascinating role of Black women who worked equally hard to achieve suffrage, while at the same time addressing a much wider range of civil rights concerns, including anti lynching efforts, redressing discrimination and segregation when using public street cars, gaining access to education or seeking employment opportunities. Black women, Jones points out, fought for rights for all of humanity, not exclusively for women. Nor did the achievement of Suffrage assure Black women the right to vote. Jim Crow in the South made voting in the South as fraught and impossible for Black women as it long had for Black men. Because issues of voting suppression and contested election results continue to incite controversy and spark discussion, Jones’ book makes for essential, thoughtful reading.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Naomi Satake

    Only a couple credits away from a Minor in Critical Gender Studies in 2010 and not a drop of this information was presented to me — wow! This book is well researched and seems to serve as a primer for the subject matter, while never getting too academic to put you to sleep. Would be good to use in curriculum to round out the overwhelmingly white women’s rights story. Side note: I listened via Audiobook and wasn’t a huge fan of the voice actor’s presentation

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alida Thomas

    I listened to a huge portion of this book on audiobook, while walking, running, or biking (indoors). The content was such that it would sometimes make me speed up in anger, sometimes almost stop in my tracks. While reading/listening, I had to actively grieve the incomplete histories I was taught about the Women's Suffrage movement (the erasure of so many Black Women who were activist for equality of race and equality of gender) and became really angry that so many of the same obstacles (or argum I listened to a huge portion of this book on audiobook, while walking, running, or biking (indoors). The content was such that it would sometimes make me speed up in anger, sometimes almost stop in my tracks. While reading/listening, I had to actively grieve the incomplete histories I was taught about the Women's Suffrage movement (the erasure of so many Black Women who were activist for equality of race and equality of gender) and became really angry that so many of the same obstacles (or arguments against justice/equality) for Black Women in society, politics, and the church remain today; including some clear examples of the toxic failures of white feminism. But I am incredibly grateful to this detailed historical work for teaching me the stories of so many incredible Black Women trailblazers.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joni Paranka

    Essential history that I'm embarrassed to have missed in my education. I learned a great deal about the many hard working bright minds who fought (and continue to fight) for voting rights over the years. It's a right I've taken for granted my entire life & I'm in awe of work these women have done over the years. Essential history that I'm embarrassed to have missed in my education. I learned a great deal about the many hard working bright minds who fought (and continue to fight) for voting rights over the years. It's a right I've taken for granted my entire life & I'm in awe of work these women have done over the years.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Woolner

    The subject is interesting to me. I had watched the author speak during the book launch and I found her stories very engaging. The book was less engaging for me but still worthwhile. I'm glad I read it. The subject is interesting to me. I had watched the author speak during the book launch and I found her stories very engaging. The book was less engaging for me but still worthwhile. I'm glad I read it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Graham

    stunning. historians will be citing VANGUARD forever. the title refers to Black women as the backbone of American political history. author/historian/professor Martha S. Jones traces Black women’s history from enslavement in the early-nineteenth century through the tumultuous political history of the early twentieth. the writing is extraordinarily engaging especially considering that this is an academic monograph & historiographically sound. VANGUARD strikes a delicate balance between people & e stunning. historians will be citing VANGUARD forever. the title refers to Black women as the backbone of American political history. author/historian/professor Martha S. Jones traces Black women’s history from enslavement in the early-nineteenth century through the tumultuous political history of the early twentieth. the writing is extraordinarily engaging especially considering that this is an academic monograph & historiographically sound. VANGUARD strikes a delicate balance between people & events, the real challenges that Black women faced and their agency & perseverance, academic and popular approaches. would pair well w/ historian Keisha Blain’s SET THE WORLD ON FIRE, which offers a transnational approach to many of the same women during many of the same years. though hardly international VANGUARD covers an extraordinary chronological scope parsing out a complex political & social history. I received VANGUARD on Netgalley & ended up buying from Libro to listen to it on audio, but this is one that I wish I owned in print.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Charles Talley

    Excellent history of the struggles of Black women in these United States

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    My issue with this book is likely not the author's fault. Due to the paucity of recorded history about black women, there was not much content to share about each individual that the author wrote about. It ended up being a quick survey or overview of a lot of different women, which made it difficult for me as the reader to retain the information. I would have preferred a deeper dive on a few individuals with more connective tissue linking their stories together. My issue with this book is likely not the author's fault. Due to the paucity of recorded history about black women, there was not much content to share about each individual that the author wrote about. It ended up being a quick survey or overview of a lot of different women, which made it difficult for me as the reader to retain the information. I would have preferred a deeper dive on a few individuals with more connective tissue linking their stories together.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Pretty interesting, I learned a lot. Prior to reading, I was only familiar with the biggest names and biggest events that were discussed. It was interesting to learn about the events I was aware of in the context of the free black community. Honestly, my education about black history is so poor, I didn't even realize how large the free black community was prior to the civil war. So much of the history is tied up with church history. Since I am not a church goer, I am always surprised when I real Pretty interesting, I learned a lot. Prior to reading, I was only familiar with the biggest names and biggest events that were discussed. It was interesting to learn about the events I was aware of in the context of the free black community. Honestly, my education about black history is so poor, I didn't even realize how large the free black community was prior to the civil war. So much of the history is tied up with church history. Since I am not a church goer, I am always surprised when I realize what a big part it plays in some communities. That all being said, I had a hard time maintaining focus when I was reading this. The level of detail was pretty overwhelming, and I couldn't really find a solid narrative to hold onto throughout, to make me want to keep turning the pages. It is thoroughly depressing that at well over 150 years past the civil war, even with the efforts of everyone in this book, racism still exists at such a rampant level (not to mention sexism).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Iman Shabani

    An educational book on the matter, give it a shot and you won't be disappointed. An educational book on the matter, give it a shot and you won't be disappointed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    An engaging history of the fight for civil rights by blacks from before the constitution was signed to the present. Jones focuses on the Reconstruction Amendments (13, 14, and 15) the 19th Amendment which guarantees the right to vote for women, to civil rights acts of the later twentieth century into the present. If you are familiar with the history of abolition, voting rights, and civil rights, you'll encounter many familiar persons along with some new names, especially those from the second ha An engaging history of the fight for civil rights by blacks from before the constitution was signed to the present. Jones focuses on the Reconstruction Amendments (13, 14, and 15) the 19th Amendment which guarantees the right to vote for women, to civil rights acts of the later twentieth century into the present. If you are familiar with the history of abolition, voting rights, and civil rights, you'll encounter many familiar persons along with some new names, especially those from the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first. You can see or rather hear (since I listened) to the echo of the demand for equal rights and for non-discriminatory access to the ballot box that are still heard today, maybe even more so. It's the perfect book for this time, for this election, for this era of disenfranchisement. The audio performance by Mela Lee is steady and listenable although it require focus to catch all the details and the names that populate this study. For a review of the performance, see AudioFile Magazine http://www.audiofilemagazine.com

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    This was hard to read for all the right reasons. We still have so much further to go.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    I did not finish this book. I just stopped reading it. The author has tried to bring focus to unrepresented women, but her way of presenting them is highly unsatisfactory. She is constantly adding feelings to her portraits, fear or nervousness before a public speech, imaginary talismans of good luck and other rubbish that adds nothing to the history. If she had done a more scholarly presentation, her work would be much more compelling. The book is irritating in its lack of rigor.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    Digging deep into archives of Black newspapers and African American clubs and churches throughout the country, historian Martha Jones tells the stories of many unsung heroines, Black women who fought for the vote both before and after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. This is the review I wrote for the New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book... Digging deep into archives of Black newspapers and African American clubs and churches throughout the country, historian Martha Jones tells the stories of many unsung heroines, Black women who fought for the vote both before and after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. This is the review I wrote for the New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Yvette Collins

    This book is quite a history lesson of the Black women who were part of the vanguard in women’s rights in the a United States, and provides a written thread showing the interconnected nature of each women’s role. It was ideal timing to finish this book only a mere few weeks from the upcoming general election of 2020.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    Not quite what I expected, but still a very good book on the role of Black women in the fight for voters’ rights. I expected a broader history, it seems like most women documented in the book were on the East coast and in the Midwestern United States.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lorene

    This book is important because the author tells us about the impact that black women had and are still having on our history. This book should be required reading in all high schools. It's a very engaging read. Some of this history I thought I knew, but I really didn't. This book is important because the author tells us about the impact that black women had and are still having on our history. This book should be required reading in all high schools. It's a very engaging read. Some of this history I thought I knew, but I really didn't.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sally Kenney

    Timely, interesting, readable, accessible. Much familiar but I still learned a lot. Centering women's activism within church leadership is a good companion to Hartmann. I would definitely assign if I were still teaching women and politics. Timely, interesting, readable, accessible. Much familiar but I still learned a lot. Centering women's activism within church leadership is a good companion to Hartmann. I would definitely assign if I were still teaching women and politics.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.

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