Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment

By Ranelle Porter,

150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment

By Satta Sarmah Hightower | February 3, 2020 | 3 Minute Read

Every two to four years on a Tuesday in November, you can use a ballot box to cast a vote for the candidate of your choosing.

This simple act is something we often take for granted, but 150 years ago, many Americans didn’t have this privilege. It wasn’t until 1870, when the 15th Amendment became a part of the Constitution, that black men were granted the right to vote.

The amendment laid the groundwork for equal voting rights for all men and women in our country. However, the right to vote is something we still must fight to protect, even half a century later.

What the 15th Amendment Is and Its Importance for Voting Rights

Congress passed the 15th Amendment in February 1869 and the law was ratified the following year, on February 3, 1870. It states that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The law was critical during the post-Civil War era after the end of slavery. Before this period, African Americans struggled to attain full rights. The 14th Amendment, which was enacted in 1868, granted African Americans citizenship, but it wasn’t until two years later that black men were able to vote. Even after the 15th Amendment was adopted, many states created barriers that prevented them from exercising their right to vote. These barriers included literacy tests, poll taxes, and violent threats to prevent black men from going to the polls. These obstacles contributed to low voter registration among African Americans. During this period, only 23% of voting-age African-Americans were registered.

It’s also important to note that although the 15th Amendment prohibited voting discrimination on the basis of race, the law did not give women the right to vote. It wasn’t until Congress ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920 that all women could vote, and it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that literacy tests and other anti-voting efforts were outlawed and African Americans were granted full voting rights. Thanks to these efforts, the number of voting-age African Americans who were registered increased from 23% to 61% by 1969.

The Evolution of Voting Rights in America

Voting is important because it exemplifies what it means to be a citizen and have full rights in your own country. This right means that everyone in our nation—regardless of race, sex, or sexual orientation—can fully participate in our democracy. Your vote is essentially your voice.

Voting has paved the way for more diverse representation in America’s elected offices, with more women and people of color serving in public office. However, 150 years after the adoption of the 15th Amendment, voting rights have never been more critical. It’s why the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has made African Americans and the Vote its 2020 Black History theme.

Today, some states have made it easier to register to vote and participate in elections, while others either have imposed or sought to enact new laws that making voting more onerous, including voter ID laws, reducing the number of polling locations, and purging eligible voters from voter registration lists.

The right to vote should be sacrosanct. This belief is at the heart of the 15th Amendment and crucial when it comes to preserving America’s democracy. Without the 15th Amendment, millions of Americans wouldn’t be able to vote or participate in our democracy, and we would likely not have leaders from nearly every walk of life serving in Congress today.

The 15th Amendment undoubtedly has helped America’s democracy endure and come closer to achieving the ultimate goal of our founders: liberty and justice for all.

Join us for good in registering to vote and exercising your right to create change and make your voice heard.

2018: A Year of Social Justice Movements in Massachusetts and Beyond

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | December 28, 2018 | 4 Minute Read

From the Yes on 3 campaign in Massachusetts to the successful efforts of supporting citizenship applications for immigrants, social justice movements have made this a year full of achievements. It’s crucial for us to take time to celebrate these important milestones as we look to another year of good in 2019. Here are just a few of our 2018 accomplishments:

The Yes on 3 Campaign in Massachusetts

Yes on 3, a coalition of LGBTQ and other social justice advocacy groups, spent two years educating Bay State residents about the public accommodations law and the importance of voting “Yes” on ballot question 3 during the midterm elections. The ballot question sought to dismantle legal protections for transgender people in Massachusetts. A “yes” vote would keep the law intact and protect the rights of transgender people in public spaces. Eastern Bank, a champion for transgender rights, lent its name to the campaign along with other corporations, faith leaders, small businesses, and several sports teams. The campaign proved successful when nearly 70 percent of voters in Massachusetts’ midterm elections voted “yes.”

Protecting New Hampshire’s Transgender Citizens

Until June of this year, New Hampshire was the only New England state that did not provide legal protections for transgender people in several key areas. In June, Governor Chris Sununu signed a bill providing legal protections to transgender people in public spaces, housing, and employment. This incredible win for the trans community in New Hampshire moves us one step closer to ensuring that all trans people are treated as equals.

A Historic Midterm Election

Civic participation will always be the cornerstone of any strong democracy. Voter turnout in the November 6th midterm election was the highest it’s been since 1914. Roughly 49 percent of the voting population in the country, or 116 million people, voted in the midterm elections. Twenty-five states reported having 50 percent or more of its eligible voters show up at the polls. The message is clear—voting is important, even in non-presidential years.

Diversity Matters

The historic midterm election turnout also gave way to a diverse pool of female elected officials. The state of Massachusetts elected its first Black congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley while Connecticut experienced a similar milestone with the election of Jahana Hayes as the state’s first Black congresswoman. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan will be the first Muslim women elected to Congress. In Kansas, Sharice Davids will join New Mexican Deb Haaland as the first Native American women elected to Congress. At the age of 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York will be the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. Congress. These victories are not only monumental, but they also help to position women to make even more strides in the coming years.

Arthur Ashe Courage Award

In July, Eastern Bank Partner For Good Aly Raisman received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPYs. She accepted the award alongside other survivors, on behalf of the more than 300 women who alleged that former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them. As Eastern Bank’s Partner For Good, Aly Raisman has been working to bring awareness of childhood sexual abuse through her partnership with nonprofit Darkness to Light.

Project Citizenship

As in previous years, Eastern Bank participated in Citizenship Day, an annual holiday acknowledging those who’ve attained their citizenship. Partnering with Project Citizenship, Eastern Bank volunteers spent some of their time providing support and resources to immigrants who were applying to become permanent U.S. residents in September.

Eastern Bank in Roxbury

This year Eastern Bank opened a branch in Roxbury, the first bank branch opening in the neighborhood in 20 years. The Roxbury branch illustrates Eastern Bank’s commitment to providing quality financial services to communities in need.

Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce

This year, Eastern Bank sponsored the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce launch. Newly founded, the Chamber “seeks to promote economic growth and viability for LGBT-owned and allied businesses, corporations, and professionals throughout the Commonwealth.”

Advancing Women

In 2018, Eastern Bank’s Join Us For Good initiative focused on the achievements of women leaders within the greater Boston area. From community activism and advocating for LGBTQ rights to giving women and communities of color a voice to create change, these women are champions of social justice.

These accomplishments are only the beginning. As we move into 2019, we look forward to celebrating even more accomplishments of social justice movements in our communities.

Join the movement, the movement of doing good things to help people and communities prosper.

Paula Johnson Honored with Social Justice Award

By Ranelle Porter,

By Nicholas Conley | December 14, 2018 | 4 Minute Read

As a young girl in Brooklyn, Paula Johnson always knew that she wanted to be a doctor someday. She had a love for science, a passion for helping others, and a cause—her beloved grandmother. Johnson has described her grandmother as a world-traveling, dancing woman who “loved life,” until suddenly succumbing to depression at age 60—a condition that was diagnosed too late to save her life.

The Cause

In Johnson’s acclaimed TED Talk, “His and Hers…Healthcare,” she explains that even though women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression, they are misdiagnosed 30–50 percent of the time. The reason for this comes down to implicit gender biases in medicine and research, which leads to the lack of quality healthcare for women. As Johnson famously told audiences, “It’s my grandmother’s struggles that have really led me on a lifelong quest.” Because of her grandmother, she had dedicated her life to ensuring that women receive the healthcare they deserve and to the well-being and advancement of women.

Johnson’s TED Talk has earned over 1,133,000 views, and is now recommended as one of the 10 Talks by Women That Everyone Should Watch.

Johnson has been a lifelong pioneer, advocate, scientist, and changemaker in the field of women’s health.

Because of her education as a cardiologist, she was among the first medical professionals to point out that the textbook “standard” symptoms of a heart attack are usually those experienced by men, whereas women may show entirely different symptoms. This was the basis for Johnson’s research because women’s biological differences from men aren’t always taken into account when diagnosing diseases or prescribing treatment.

“Men and women are different down to the cellular and molecular levels,” said Johnson in her TED Talk. “From our brains to our hearts, our lungs, our joints. And we’ve learned that there are major differences in the ways that women and men experience diseases, but we’re not making the investment in fully understanding the extent of these sex differences. We aren’t talking about what we have learned, and routinely applying it in clinical care. So we have to ask ourselves the question: why leave women’s health to chance?”

Johnson, the Grayce A. Young Family Professor of Medicine in Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School, a professorship named for her mother, and professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, founded the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and she’s currently a member of the National Academy of Medicine, as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Today she serves as the 14th President of Wellesley College—the first Black woman to occupy that role. In this new academic role, Johnson has worked to create new opportunities for women to achieve their aspirations across all fields.

Why Her Work Matters

Johnson has dedicated her life to the cause of equality. She has called out gender biases in medicine and worked to receive funding for women’s health sciences.

Furthermore, she’s sought to create change at the ground level. When people ask how they can help, she gives a straightforward answer: “As a woman, you have to ask your doctor, and the doctors who are caring for those you love: is this disease or treatment different in women? Now, this is a profound question, because the answer is likely yes, but your doctor may not know the answer, at least not yet. But if you ask the question, your doctor will very likely go looking for the answer. And this is so important, not only for ourselves, but for all of those whom we love.”

Most recently, Johnson co-chaired the first evidence-based study on sexual harassment in academia, specifically in STEM fields, under the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. This ground-breaking study not only describes the extent of the problem but recommends strategies to prevent sexual harassment and to change climate and culture in organizations.

Celebrating Her Social Justice Achievements

Eastern Bank’s Celebration of Social Justice is now in its 30th year of honoring local individuals and nonprofits who have achieved outstanding success in addressing social justice issues.  In support of its 2018 Targeted Grant category of Advancing Women, Paula Johnson—physician-scientist, innovator, and educator—is this year’s award recipient.

Please join us in congratulating Johnson on this honor and for advancing, promoting, and defending women’s education, health, and well-being.