For Black History Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various African American leaders and activists who have worked at the intersection of civil and labor rights, with a particular focus on voting rights. Without access to the ballot box and an assurance that everyone's vote counts, civil and labor rights are among the first to be taken away from working people. Today, we're looking at Lottie Rollin.
Charlotte "Lottie" Rollin was born in 1849, the second of five African American sisters born to a free black family in South Carolina. While older sister Frances would be more well-known and all five sisters were activists, Lottie would have a special focus on voting rights.
Lottie followed Frances into activism after the family moved to Columbia. In March 1869, she argued for women's suffrage before the state legislature, becoming one of the first African American women to formally speak to a state government in the South after the Civil War. The next year she organized a "Women's Rights Convention." She chaired the event and her sister Katherine served as secretary.
In the following years, Lottie founded South Carolina's branch of one of the leading voting rights organizations in the country, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). She recruited her sisters to the state AWSA and they led a big push for a state constitutional amendment for women's suffrage in 1872. The amendment was defeated as radical Reconstruction ended.
In the years after the failure of the amendment, the Rollin family, particularly Lottie, were more and more in danger from the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists. All five sisters eventually would be forced to leave the South. Lottie ended up in Brooklyn.
At the 1870 women's rights convention, Lottie Rollin spoke to her passion:
It had been so universally the custom to treat the idea of woman suffrage with ridicule and merriment that it becomes necessary in submitting the subject for earnest deliberation that we assure the gentlemen present that our claim is made honestly and seriously. We ask suffrage not as a favor, not as a privilege, but as a right based on the ground that we are human beings, and as such, entitled to all human rights...until woman has had right of representation this will last, and other rights will be held by an insecure tenure.
Read more about the Rollin sisters and their activism in Columbia, South Carolina, and beyond.