Lifting As We Climb: Black Women's Battle for the Ballot Box

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Lifting As We Climb: Black Women's Battle for the Ballot Box Book Poster Image
Powerful history of Black women fighting for the vote.

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Educational Value

There are numerous insets that highlight events, facts, and organizations (the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, voting in the South, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments) as well as biographical profiles of women both well known (Sojourner Truth) and lesser known (Nannie Helen Burroughs) to readers.

Positive Messages

Shows the importance of perserverance, dedication, and teamwork. The women featured in this book never ever gave up, sometimes working for decades before achieving their goal.

Positive Role Models

Educator, activist, and suffragist Nannie Helen Burroughs founded one of the first schools devoted to educating African American women and girls. The daughter of former slaves, Mary McLeod Bethune defied the KKK to cast her first vote and cofounded the United Negro College Fund. Anna Julia Cooper was born enslaved but went onto graduate from Oberlin College, become a teacher, and earn a Ph.D. from the University of Paris. in 1934, Amelia Boynton Robinson became one of the only Black residents of Selma, Alabama, to become a registered voter. Thirty years later, she was beaten and teargassed on the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.


While never graphically described, there are a number of violent incidents in the story. Black men are dragged from their jail cells by a mob shot and shot to death. One of them is brutally butchered. White mobs burn and loot Black-owned businesses. Suffragists are imprisoned, beaten, and force fed and civil rights marchers in the 1960s are beaten and clubbed by police. It's noted that between 1877 and 1950, 4,000 Black Americans were lynched in 12 Southern states.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Evette Dionne's Lifting As We Climb: Black Women's Battle for the Ballot Box won a 2021 Coretta Scott King Author Honor. It begins with the prominent role played by Black women in the Abolitionist movement, then moves onto their fight for the right of women to vote, and finally to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the election of the first Black women to Congress. The story also addresses the multiple fronts on which these women had to fight their battles. Even while proving their worth as activists and organizers, they often encountered shocking racism from White abolitionists and suffragists and fought a constant battle against men (both Black and White) who thought their time would be better spent being good wives and mothers. Their activism played out against a backdrop of violence and the book notes but does not graphically describe Black men being lynched, White mobs burning and looting Black owned businesses, and civil rights marchers in the1960s being beaten and clubbed by police. The title, Lifting As We Climb, comes from the motto of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, whose founders included Harriet Tubman and suffragist Mary Church Terrell.

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What's the story?

LIFTING AS WE CLIMB begins before the Civil War with the fight against slavery and the too often overlooked role played by Black women abolitionists. Formerly enslaved women like Sojourner Truth and free educated Black women like the Forten sisters of Philadelphia gave speeches across the country, wrote for abolitionist newspapers, and told their stories in books and pamphlets. But they often found themselves pushed aside or simply not welcomed by white abolitionist societies. They'd soon encounter the same wall of prejudice from a suffrage movement often willing to make compromises (asking Black women to walk at the back of a suffrage parade) to appease their Southern members. In response, Black suffragists came together in 1896 to form The National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC). Its goal was not just winning the right to vote for women, but also uplifting people in the Black community. The legacy of these fearless abolitionists and suffragists would inspire a new generation of activists who would turn their focus to desegregation and voting rights. The book ends with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the election of the first Black woman (Shirley Chisholm) to Congress, and Stacey Abrams' 2018 campaign for governor of Georgia.


Is it any good?

This dramatic and inspiring story of perseverance and determination is brought to life by dozens of archival photos and lively biographical profiles. Lifting As We Climb is jam-packed with history that may be unfamiliar to some readers, so they may find themselves having a bit of a hard time keeping track of all the characters (the photos and profiles really help) and remembering which organizations go with which initials (NAWSA, PFASS, NACWC). This is a book to be read slowly and thoughtfully.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the other battle fought by the women in Lifting As We Climb. While they fought for the end of slavery and the right to vote, they also had to fight against the idea that a woman's place was in the home. Is this a battle women are still fighting?

  • Should clubs and organizations be able to deny membership to someone based on their race or religion? 

  • If you could vote in the next local or national election, what issues would be the most important for you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love civil rights books and stories of voting

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