Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Lizzie Brown Sims, 1874-?


By Juliann Susas, undergraduate student, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Lizzie Brown was born around 1874 in Georgia. She attended Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) and moved to New York City by 1915 with her husband, Charles A. Sims of Canada. According to the New York state census, he worked as a cook; she worked in laundry, and they employed a domestic servant. The Sims family was likely a participant of the first wave of the Great Migration and was drawn to the North in response to rising Jim Crow laws and little economic opportunities in the South. In December 1916, they had a son, Albert or Allen (records vary). By 1920, the couple had divorced, and Lizzie B. Sims rented her household and welcomed boarders as a source of income for her and her son. In 1930, she remained in Manhattan, living with her mother, son, and two boarders.

After moving to New York, Lizzie B. Sims was involved with the Colored Women's Suffrage Club of New York City. The club affiliated with the New York City Woman Suffrage Party. In August 1917, Sims attended New York state's suffrage convention in Saratoga in this capacity. After the convention, some members of the Colored Women's Suffrage Club were discouraged by their treatment and position in comparison to their white counterparts. Despite discussion among the club members, the club decided to remain affiliated with the suffrage party and work with the white women for suffrage. Several clubwomen, including Sims and Mary M. Sharperson Young, chose to distance themselves from the suffrage movement and become more involved with Garveyism and the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

Throughout her life, Lizzie B. Sims demonstrated loyalty to Marcus Garvey and dedicated membership to the UNIA. In November 1917, she was listed as the second vice president of the Ladies Division. According to historian Natanya Duncan, Sims was a witness in the Garvey trial in 1923. Even after Garvey was deported to Jamaica, Sims helped fund the New York Garvey Club by working as a stenographer and a hairdresser. She was also close with Ethel Collins, the head of the Garvey Club. Sims' involvement in the UNIA seemingly demonstrates her belief that the campaign of women's suffrage had its shortcomings in addressing the position and issues that women of color faced. She could have been drawn to Garvey's organization due to its focus on racial pride, which spoke to her identity as a black woman.

While Lizzie B. Sims was involved in the campaign for women's suffrage, she did not see the vote as the ultimate resolution for the issues that women of color faced. Sims advocated for fair wages for women of color. She also collaborated with Benjamin Burrell, the creator of the Gleaners, a history club in Harlem. She utilized this space to educate women on local politics and encouraged women to use the vote as a vehicle to draw attention to issues black women faced. Additionally, Sims participated in the Don't Buy Here Campaign of the 1930s, in which women refused to buy goods from businesses that did not employ people of color. Sims even campaigned for Louise Thompson Patterson, a radical African American activist, and attended meetings in both New York and Georgia. Sims's life demonstrates that while the vote was regarded as a mechanism for political power, it was not the solution for all the issues women of

color faced. Her extended activism in other social causes illustrates that some women turned to other movements because the campaign for women's suffrage was not inclusive of all women.

Lizzie B. Sims was honored in 1954 among members of fifty-plus-years at St. Mark's Methodist Church in New York City. She died sometime after that, although an exact death date is unknown.


"33 Who Have Been with St. Mark's Half Century Are Feted by Church." New York Age. June 26, 1954.

"Colored Women Attend Suffrage Meeting." New York Age. September 6, 1917.

Duncan, Natanya. "If Our Men Hesitate Then the Women of the Race Must Come Forward: Henrietta Vinton Davis and the UNIA in New York." New York History 94, No. 1 (Fall 2015): 558-583.

Duncan, Natanya. "Lizzie B. Sims and UNIA," email to the author, 2019.

Funeral Notices. "Sandilans, Mrs. Lucy Brown." Atlanta Constitution. July 14, 1939.

Goodier, Susan and Karen Pastorelli. Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017, 178.

Gallagher, Julia A. Black Women and Politics in New York City. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012, 23- 25.

"Install Officers at St. Mark's." New York Age. January 23, 1943.

Marcus Garvey to Nicholas Murray Butler, President, Columbia University, New York, November 27, 1917. In The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, vol. 1: 1826-August 1919, edited by Robert A. Hill, 225-26. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

New York, State Census, 1915, s.v. "Lizzie B. Sims." Ancestry Library.

"St. Mark's M.E. Church." New York Age. April 20, 1935.

United States Census 1920, 1930, s.v. "Lizzie Sims, Manhattan, New York, NY." Ancestry Library.


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