The Fayetteville Chapter of the National Organization for Women (Fayetteville NOW) celebrated Women’s Equality Day 2020 with a Virtual Program led by Roberta Waddle. The Keynote Speaker was the Honorable Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson. The program drew participants from Fayetteville, Hope Mills, Linden, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and other cities. Waddle and Fayetteville NOW had been highlighting at least 10 local women leaders “Women of Cumberland” on Facebook leading up to the event.
Waddle welcomed participants and invited them to look back and remember early women of Cumberland County who persisted and succeeded. “We want to reminisce about our great local women who were pioneers of their time,” Waddle said. “We also honor women here today who have worked tirelessly and honorably for many years for the citizens of Fayetteville and North Carolina.” Waddle asked Fayetteville NOW’s honorees to make some comments about the importance of voting. Waddle introduced the Honorable Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson who gave the keynote address, speaking about the sacrifices and contributions made by the early warriors for women’s right to vote. Then, Waddle called on current leaders present to give a few comments.
At the beginning of the event, Waddle asked participants to reminisce about early female leaders, including Sylvia Allen, the first African-American female assistant district attorney in Cumberland County; Beth Finch, Fayetteville’s first and only female mayor; Chief Justice Cheri Beasley; Nancy Shakir, who represented Democracy NC and traveled through the state registering people to vote. Shakir was arrested during a Moral Monday Protest with the Reverend William Barber II; and Margaret Dickson, who served in both the NC House and Senate. Waddle also remembered Mary McAllister, who passed away recently and who was the first female Chair of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners.
Waddle then invited the event’s honorees to talk to the group about voting. The Honorable Chief Justice Elizabeth Keever said, “Women are 51% of the electorate. Yet, women make the mistake of staying in the background.” Keever said she had a “very strong response from the women in Cumberland County” when she first ran for office in 1982 and in the elections that followed. She said, “I wouldn’t have won without women.” Keever remembered taking her mother to vote for her. She urged participants, not only to vote, but to “take people with you to vote.” She ended by saying, “Women can and will make a difference.”
Waddle then welcomed Kimberly Hardy, candidate for NC House District 43 (endorsed by NC NOW PAC) before introducing the keynote speaker, “Patricia Timmons-Goodson was raised on Fort Bragg. Timmons-Goodson started out as district court judge, then went to the Court of Appeals, making her the first African-American woman to win a state-wide race. She later was voted an Associate Justice of the NC Supreme Court. After retiring, Timmons-Goodson served the Obama administration on the Civil Rights Commission. She is now running for the U.S. Congress.”
Keynote Speaker the Honorable Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson took the floor and spoke enthusiastically about Women’s Right to Vote. She said, “We are living in difficult and tumultuous times. The wonders of technology allow us to come together.” She added, “Our behavior will be forever changed.” She looked at the faces on the screen and said, “It feels good to be here. I get some warmth and comfort from seeing your faces.”
Timmons-Goodson turned to the 19th Amendment. She said, “No one gave us the right to vote. We fought for 100 years in an epic campaign.” In reading about the history of the 19th Amendment, she said she was “surprised at what I didn’t know. On this day, August 26, 1920, 27 million women could vote.” This was something that had been “seemingly unsurmountable!” She reflected on the “obstacles in the suffragettes’ way and all of the marches, politicking, jail sentences, police brutality, and intimidation. None of it stopped the women. We persisted.” She suggested that we are “not one voice. We have deep divisions.” Timmons-Goodson went on to describe the division that developed between white women and African-American women and the many state obstacles placed to prevent African Americans from voting. In the South, Jim Crow laws eroded rights. As the suffrage movement splintered over race, African American women formed their own organizations to secure and protect the rights of all women and men. Timmons-Goodson quoted the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Timmons-Goodson remembered Representative John Lewis who said, “A vote is precious—almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have.” To vote often African Americans had to be able to read the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, she explained. There were also poll taxes and other tactics. John Lewis fought for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She reflected on words from the eulogy to John Lewis by President Barack Obama who said, “Progress is fragile, and we have to be vigilant.”
“This anniversary reminds us of how far we have come and also how far we have to go,” said Timmons-Goodson; “for this year, voting may be as important. Let’s take this day for all the women who fought and sacrificed. She referred to John Lewis’ urging to “be hopeful. This is a struggle of a lifetime.”
Timmons-Goodson ended by thanking Fayetteville NOW for its contributions to Fayetteville and Cumberland County.
Waddle recognized Gailya Paliga, NC NOW President, who announced that the ”NC NOW PAC has endorsed over 70 excellent candidates in North Carolina. The national NOW PAC has endorsed 8 excellent candidates for U.S. Congress.” Waddle ended by reminiscing about voting before recognizing local leaders present, including new Fayetteville NOW president Pam Carver; retired teacher, poet and writer Ethelyn Baker, and endorsed candidates Kim Hardy and Senator Kirk deViere.