News

August 28, 2020

Susan Henking: Building a future of equality

photo of Dr. Susan Henking square cropped

Interim President Susan Henking wrote a guest column about Women’s Equality Day that was included in the Winston-Salem Journal on August 25. We invite you to take a moment to read about this important moment in our history at the link or below.

Susan Henking: Building a future of equality

By Susan Henking Guest columnist

Aug 25, 2020

This is a historic moment. An unprecedented time. How often have we heard those words in recent months or weeks?

As we hover on the razor’s edge between a past for which some are nostalgic and a future toward which we yearn, history matters. Our shared history is one in which all people are created equal — and in which inequality is fundamental. It is about the many ways we draw on aspirational ideals to bring change, or, as Salem Academy and College’s missions emphasize, draw on courage, curiosity, character and compassion to change the world. It is about how our own very real actions shape the history of tomorrow.

Today, on Equality Day, we celebrate the centenary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ratified nationally in 1920 and in North Carolina in 1971) and recognize that moment of celebration as part of a movement that shapes and is shaped by our lives.

I remember the first time I voted. Perhaps you do, too. For me, voting seemed something that had always been there. It was the 1970s and I was a young, white woman raised by World War II-era parents whose commitment to voting was lifelong. Voting was a duty. An obligation. And, on occasion, a chore.

My high school taught civics. I knew the story of a country founded on the universal rights of man: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I did not recognize the ways the Constitution was grounded in slavery nor in the exclusions of race, class, gender and more. I had never heard of Seneca Falls nor a movement for women’s enfranchisement.

I did not know then the long, ongoing travail that has been the struggle for my enfranchisement. I did not know that my mother was born mere months after the passage of the 19th Amendment, first introduced to Congress in 1878, nor that Mississippi would be the last state to ratify that amendment in 1984. I did not know the easy privilege that made my right to vote relatively accessible.

I did not know the racism and xenophobia that limited and continue to limit the very real victory — the step — that was the 19th Amendment. I did not reflect on the reality that I was 10 when the Voting Rights Act passed Congress, nor that access to voting and the elimination of restrictive poll taxes were a core concern of the civil rights movement. I did not know that it was within three years of my mother’s birth (1924) that Native Americans were “granted” citizenship and thus eligibility to vote, nor that Native Americans could not vote in some states until a few years before my own birth. Nor did I know that it was a similarly short time before I was born that Chinese immigrants, including women, were granted the right to vote. I didn’t know that it was the 1952 repeal of the 1790 Naturalization Law that gave first generation Japanese Americans, including women, citizenship and the right to vote.

I did not know because my civics classes did not cover those topics, and I did not choose to educate myself until long after the time I first walked into the polling booth.

And so, on Equality Day, as we celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, we must continue to ask which women, which vote, and more. Let’s pause for a moment to turn an eye not merely toward the moment but also to the movement toward inclusion of all women. Let’s stop to educate one another, to build on the contested history that is ours, to make this historic, unprecedented time a time of hope.

I encourage you to join me and other Americans on Equality Day by watching an online concert and rally beginning at 9 p.m. today at womentakethestage.org. Salem Academy and College is one of eight schools across America that is joining our voices with others to support this event to commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment.

Susan Henking is the interim president of Salem Academy and College.