Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart discussed the history of the right to vote at the NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner.
JACKSON TWP. Justice Melody Stewart, while speaking at the annual Stark County NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner, gave her audience a history lesson Thursday evening on the lengthy and arduous struggle that took place in this country to secure voting rights for all adult citizens.
The first black woman elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, Stewart gave particular focus on what it took for women to be able to vote.
“As many of you know, next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which has given women the right to vote,” Stewart, 54, said, while speaking in the Piazza Room of the La Pizzeria restaurant and banquet hall complex.
However, Stewart mentioned a lesser known historical women’s rights event which occurred in 1848 which grew out of convention organized by women. This convention produced a document known as Declaration of Sentiments. This document endorsed women’s suffrage.
“For decades, black women had to beg to be included,” Stewart said. “Women of color faced discrimination from the gender perspective and the ethnic perspective.”
Stewart, who is from the Cleveland, defeated incumbent Mary DeGenaro in 2018 to claim a term on the Ohio Supreme Court. Prior to joining the state high court, Stewart was a justice on the 8th District Court of Appeals. She earned a law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Stewart also holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati.
Stewart, during her keynote speech, went over the significance of the 15th Amendment and the 19th Amendment. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, set out to prohibit the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race or previous condition of servitude. But what this amendment did was allow states to establish standards, such as literacy tests or poll taxes, to make it difficult for black citizens to vote.
And the 15th Amendment failed to address a woman’s right to the ballot.
“You think they would have said, ‘You might as well put women in there, too,’” Stewart said.
Through all the decades of legal battling, it was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that all adult citizens of the United States had full voting rights, the Ohio Supreme Court justice said.
Stewart also talked about her election triumph of last year.
“It has been something running for the Supreme Court,” she said. “I didn’t know thing-one about running for statewide office.”
Her opponent, Mary DeGenaro, had been appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court early in 2018 to fill an unexpired term created with the retirement of a justice.
At the outset of her campaign, Stewart said she made a pledge that, “I was not going to say a single negative thing about my opponent.”
During the Freedom Fund Dinner, others gave brief addresses, such as former Stark County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Reinbold who mentioned the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. Reinbold took issue when he discovered that Cummings, who recently died, is the first black who remains lay in repose in the U.S. Capitol.
“If you look at history, it is the judicial branch (of government) that has stood up when it counted,” Reinbold said. “The importance of Justice Stewart being on that bench cannot be exaggerated.”
The dinner attracted more than 200 patrons, according to Deb Shamlin, president of the Stark County NAACP.
“It is well supported every year,” Shamlin said. “I think our work is recognized in the community.”
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