The 19th Amendment Is Ratified (Aug. 18, 1920)
Mary Huffman: The ratification of the 19th Amendment did more than give women the right to vote. It was also a stepping-stone to many other areas of progress by women, from higher education and the professions to economic rights and even being able to serve on a jury. The ratification was the product of more than 70 years of fighting, going all the way back to women like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met in Seneca Falls, N.Y.In my fifth-grade classroom, we study from Civil War Reconstruction to present times, and my students—particularly the girls—notice that we start with African-American men getting the right to vote, but not women. They get really upset by that, and I have to tell them that women were seen as inferior. When we got to the 19th Amendment this year, they cheered. It brought tears to my eyes. It’s an empowering moment, from back then all the way to 2016. Mary Huffman, a fifth-grade teacher at Charles Pinckney Elementary in Mount Pleasant, S.C., was named 2015’s National History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
The Census Uses ‘Mexican’ as a Race (April 1, 1930)
Pablo Mitchell: As far back as the 19th century, when what had been part of Mexico became part of the U.S., people of Mexican heritage had been considered “white” according to the U.S. government. That changed in 1930 when the U.S. census bureau decided to classify them—immigrants and their descendants alike—as racially “Mexican.” The decision came at a time of hardening racial divisions in the United States: the 1920s had seen the reemergence of the KKK; the institution of the one-drop rule for African-Americans; and immigration restrictions targeting Asians, Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans. At the time, Mexicans were the bulk of agricultural workers in the Southwest, but after the Great Depression hit they were targeted for deportation—not just immigrants, but American citizens of Mexican heritage as well. Thanks largely to the work of civil-rights activists, the census designation was changed back in 1940, but not before the impact had been made. That short period solidified the identity of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as non-white, a perception that persists to the present. Pablo Mitchell is professor of history and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin, and a winner of the Ray Allen Billington Prize from the Organization of American Historians. He is the author of several books, including the textbook History of Latinos: Exploring Diverse Roots.
TOP PHOTO: Jackie Robinson, the first black to be admitted to the major leagues, enters the Brooklyn Dodgers’ clubhouse after the Dodgers announced they had purchased his Montreal Royals contract, 1947.
“I cannot possibly believe,” he wrote in his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, published shortly before he died of a heart attack at age 53 in 1972, “that I have it made while so many black brothers and sisters are hungry, inadequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity as they live in slums or barely exist on welfare.”
James Grossman: When Jackie Robinson took the field as first baseman for Brooklyn, it was the first time in more than half a century that an African American participated in a major league baseball game. During the Jim Crow era the sport resembled the many other arenas of life in which African Americans built parallel institutions for themselves. But, despite the success of many Negro League teams, the color of Major League baseball remained white. The substantial role of African American soldiers in WWII, combined with increasing black populations in northern cities, created a fertile environment for change. Branch Rickey, president of the Dodgers, recognized the potential rewards that could be reaped from taking the substantial risks involved in signing black players. Jackie Robinson was prepared to take an even greater risk. His breaking the baseball color line was just one part of a larger process of eliminating the racial barriers that had been built since Emancipation to ensure the persistence of white supremacy in American institutional life. It took a dozen years before all major league teams had at least one black player.
James Grossman is executive director of the American Historical Association.
Martin Luther King Jr. once told Dodgers star Don Newcombe, another former Negro Leaguer, “You’ll never know what you and Jackie and Roy [Campanella] did to make it possible to do my job.”