Anna Allene Clemmons


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Anna Alene Clemmons, 1890-1956

By Linda D. Wilson, Independent Historian

African American Anna Alene Clemmons, the daughter of Allen and Martha (Evans) Clemmons, was born June 9, 1890, in the coastal town of Smithville, Brunswick County, North Carolina. Her parents married on November 28, 1874, in that county. Anna Clemmons was one of at least eight children. Her father worked as a watchman and as a farmer. In April 1896, he contracted with city of Southport (formerly Smithville) to haul sand for which he received compensation in the amount of $1.83.

Surviving census records fill out our picture of Anna Clemmons. In 1910 she was unmarried and 20 years old, still living in her parents' household, along with five brothers. Her father, recorded as a watchman, owned outright the farm on which they lived. By 1920, Anna's mother had passed away. Anna, now a nurse, lived with her father and six brothers. Her father passed away in 1922 and we cannot find the family in the census listing for Smithville, NC in 1930. Anna is recorded in Smithville in 1940 as a 49-year-old nurse. She was living alone, the owner of her home valued at $250. She continued to work as a nurse, but had been unemployed for 48 weeks in the previous year. We learn as well that Anna had completed two years of high school.

Extant records indicate that Anna Clemmons was denied the right to vote in North Carolina after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. On October 10, 1920, Clemmons wrote a letter to the secretary of the National Woman's Party (NWP) explaining that as an African American woman she was having difficulty registering to vote in her county. She noted that she was a property owner and asked if she could vote by mail, thus eliminating discrimination due to her skin color. NWP Secretary Emma Wold responded ten days later. Wold claimed that the NWP had made inquiries and learned that African American women were being registered in North Carolina. She asked Clemmons if she had tried to register in person and remarked that she could vote by mail by applying for a ballot at the county board.

Clemmons quickly responded to Wold's letter. Clemmons said she had registered to vote on October 15, but she did not read and write to "suit" the registrar. Clemmons claimed that her seven brothers had the same difficulty when they registered. She further explained she worked as a nurse, was a Christian and attended the Methodist church, had donated to the Red Cross, volunteered during the 1918 influenza epidemic, and was a taxpayer. Clemmons asked Wold to investigate the matter.

Wold responded that she had brought Clemmons's letter to the attention of NWP President Alice Paul. Wold also told Clemmons that at this time the only solution to eliminate discrimination in the South was through an enabling act passed by Congress to place federal authority over the states' registration boards and election officials and that the NWP planned to work on passage of the act during the next congressional session. In Gender & Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920, historian Glenda Gilmore asserts that Clemmons did not receive any more correspondence from Wold.

Additionally, the NWP did not follow through with their plan to work on the enabling act. NWP President Paul refused to become involved in helping African American women fight for their voting rights after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. According to historian Ellen Carol Dubois, Paul considered the situation a question of race, rather than sex; thus, it was not a matter for the NWP's consideration. More than likely, Clemmons never acquired an opportunity to vote.

Although the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution gave African Americans the right to vote, they were denied the right to vote through poll taxes, literacy tests, and other discriminatory practices in the South. The vast majority of blacks were unable to vote until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when many of the discriminatory voting restrictions were eliminated. Furthermore, North Carolina did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment until 1971.

Anna Alene Clemmons never married and died on February 17, 1956, in Southport, North Carolina. Anna and her parents are buried in Smith Cemetery in Southport.


Death Certificate for Anna Alene Clemmons, accessed on on April 1, 2021. Document 2: Letter from Anna A. Clemons [sic] to the National Woman's Party, 10 October 1920; Document 3: Letter from Emma Wold to Miss Anna A. Clemons, 20 October 1920; Document 4: Letter to Miss Emma Wold from Anna A. Clemons, 24 October 1920; and Document 5: Emma Wold to Miss Anna A. Clemons, 2 November 1920, National Woman's Party Papers, 1913-1974, Library of Congress, [Microfilm (1979)], reel 5, included in "How Did the National Woman's Party Address the Issue of the Enfranchisement of Black Women, 1919-1924?" by Kathryn Kish Sklar and Jill Dias (Birmingham, NY: State University of New York at Birmingham, 1997)

Find A Grave, for Allen Clemmons, Martha Clemmons, and Anna Alene Clemmons, accessed through on April 1, 2021. Ellen Carol Dubois, Suffrage: Women's Long Battlefor the Vote (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2020), 289. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore,

Gender & Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (2nd ed., Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 222-23. North Carolina, U.S., Death Certificates, 1909-1976, for Allen Clemmons. North Carolina, U.S., Marriage Records, 1741-2011, for Allen C. Clemmons and Martha Evans. Southport (NC) Leader, April 23, 1896. U.S. Census, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1940, Smithville, Brunswick County, North Carolina.


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