The TIE Podcast Fall Session Preview: A Conversation with Martha S. Jones

TIE editor in chief Alexia Hudson-Ward speaks with Dr. Martha S. Jones about her new book.

Picture of Martha Jones
Dr. Martha S. Jones

The TIE Podcast series rolls on with our latest Fall Session episode: A Conversation with Martha S. Jones, author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (Basic Books, 2020).

In this episode, TIE editor in chief Alexia Hudson-Ward speaks with Dr. Jones about her critically acclaimed book. Dr. Jones talks about voter rights and voter suppression efforts as companion stories in the US. She also recounts her experience of having her book banned by a Louisiana public library board. (Here’s ALA’s response.)

In addition to writing, Dr. Jones is a Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, Professor of History, and a Professor at the SNF Agora Institute at The Johns Hopkins University. She is a legal and cultural historian whose work examines how Black Americans have shaped the story of American democracy. Prior to her work in academia, Dr. Jones was a public interest litigator in New York City. She holds a J.D. from the CUNY School of Law and a PhD from Columbia University.

Here’s a quick peek into the episode:

About her book:

Vanguard Book Cover

It aimed to be an intervention into the making of the centennial of the 19th Amendment. 2020 marked 100 years since the so-called Women’s Suffrage Amendment had become part of the Constitution and I wanted to be among those who ensured that the perspectives of Black American women were not overlooked … There was a pantheon of Black women activists who were part of this story. At the same time, the book turned out to be, in a sense, much more than that, because as the 2020 election cycle gained momentum it was clear that Black women were going to play outsized roles in real time. It wasn’t just a history question at all, it was a 21st-century Democracy question.

On why it’s important to have a complete view of history:

On the other end of the story where we might want to tie up a neat bow in 1920 and say, ‘Now women have got the vote’ … when we introduce the perspectives of Black women we have to rethink that, too, because too many Black women do not get the vote in 1920 and more importantly everyone knows they’re not going to get the vote in 1920 because now they’re going to be disenfranchised by the Jim Crow laws and the intimidation and violence that have kept Black men from the polls already for a long time. So why is that important if you’re a public historian, for example? Or a librarian! It means you’ve got to include material that goes all the way to 1965 and the modern civil rights era in order to capture that extraordinary moment when Black women and Black men come to the body politic fully for the very first time in US history with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. So that means we’re changing our bibliography, we’re changing our timelines, we’re changing our characters and I hoped that Vanguard would give folks a place to begin that work.

On her book being banned:  

My thinking about this incident went to the library patrons in Lafayette, Louisiana and the community there. Because one of the questions that I most frequently get when I’m out … talking about Vanguard … [is] … ‘Why didn’t I learn this in school?’ And when you recognize that as part of the frame for this history and many of our histories, young and old people alike, I realize the public library is that place where now we are all permitted, invited to be life-long learners and to make up for the many deficits in our own education … For me, the echoes of that question—Why didn’t I learn this in school?—it’s not simply by oversight, it is also by design. And that is what was happening in that library…people were looking to curate what people could know, what folks could learn, how they could think critically about voting rights. And that is, if you will, a sin of commission and not omission. And that is part of what is at work and what we all wrestle with in the trenches of education and librarianship.

Listen to the full conversation below:

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If you missed the Summer Session episode—an interview with Steven S. Rogers, author of A Letter to My White Friends and Colleagues: What You Can Do Right Now to Help the Black Community—click here to listen.

Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.