Wednesday, April 26, 2023
By THNOC Staff

In a speech introducing suffragist Susan B. Anthony, Sylvanie Williams, an African American educator, activist, and leader, compared the plight of Black women in Louisiana to flowers mistreated and trampled underfoot: “Yet she is advancing,” Williams declared, “and sometimes you find her farther on than you might have expected.”

In anticipation of The Historic New Orleans Collection’s upcoming exhibition “Yet She Is Advancing”: New Orleans Women and the Right to Vote, 1878–1970, our 2023 Student Writing Contest challenged high school and middle school students from across the country to answer a series of questions in the form of a letter to Sylvanie Williams. They were asked to express their feelings about the status of rights and freedoms in the United States from 1920 to the present day, what progress has been made, and whether Williams would be proud of the state of equality in our country today.

The response was overwhelming: more than 450 students submitted letters, from New Orleans to Washington state. Learn more about the contest rules and questions here.

Read the winning entries below, and learn more about “Yet She Is Advancing”: New Orleans Women and the Right to Vote, 1878–1970, on view April 28–November 5, 2023.

Black-and-white photograph of a woman. She is depicted from the neck up and is facing left.

Sylvanie Williams, African American educator, activist, and leader (THNOC, 2016.0087)


High School Winners

1st Place: Amara Nwabueze, Zachary High School, Zachary, LA, grade 9

“We can’t tolerate regression, not after all the progress we’ve made. The greatest defeat is when we become stationary. Silence and stillness are the breeding grounds for oppression, while battles can birth greatness and change.” Read the letter.


2nd Place: Ty’Leah Briggs, St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory, New Orleans, LA, grade 10

“If life was a crystal stair, the feeling of making it to the top wouldn’t be as rewarding as going up a staircase with twists, turns, and tacks. Thank you for fighting to protect the mistreated flowers that are constantly trampled underfoot.” Read the letter.


3rd Place: Iris Xue, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Columbus, MS, grade 11

“Though the world may seem like it has advanced into a more bottomless pit of chaos and controversy, I assure you that the fight for equal rights is still worthwhile. I believe the women’s movement could never have advanced unless it expanded to encompass more issues, the issues of all women in America.” Read the letter.


Honorable Mention: Phoebe Fannin, Zachary High School, Zachary, LA, grade 9

“We should take inspiration from the people who fought to give us the rights and freedoms we enjoy today. We should care enough to take action. My generation is the future of America. If we don’t care, who will?” Read the letter.


Honorable Mention: Mia Scott, Zachary High School, Zachary, LA, grade 9

“Living safely is a basic human right that is threatened for women simply living. . . . Women continue to persevere in the quest you started to end discrimination and violent acts committed against them, to create greater gender equality, and to maintain control over their own bodies.” Read the letter.

Black-and-white photograph of two young Black women being carried into a police van by five white police officers.

September 1963 arrest of voting rights protestors at New Orleans City Hall (THNOC, 2021.0180)

Middle School Winners

1st Place: Victoria Foster, Homeschool, Round Rock, TX, grade 6

“I believe that taking books away from children because they are ‘inappropriate’ or wanting to keep us innocent prevents us from learning about the world which will be given to us and that we must live in . . . . kids don’t need to see all the horrors adults have created, [but] banning and hiding these things leaves us ignorant and unprotected when we grow up.” Read the letter.


2nd Place: Benjamin Wu, Narrows View Intermediate, University Place, WA, grade 7

“Thank you for unlocking in me, and maybe countless others what we never knew we possessed: hidden under a shy exterior, an inner strength, and the willingness to fight for what is right. Your spirit will continue to light on us, and we will continue the fight!” Read the letter.


3rd Place: Noah Hochron, Bricolage Academy, New Orleans, LA, grade 6

“As you know, education for African American kids has not always been easy, or even allowed. . . . In 1960, at just 6 years old, Ruby Bridges was the first person to integrate a white school in New Orleans! But now, segregation has largely returned to New Orleans schools.” Read the letter.


Honorable Mention: Aenea Hester, Audubon Charter School, New Orleans, LA, grade 8

“As a teenage girl, I should not have had to be given a talk after Roe v. Wade was overturned, informing me of the unchangeable fate that the government has given me. . . . Women are rarely believed when it comes to sexual assault, especially when the assaulter is well known. How is it that almost every woman knows a survivor, but no man knows a perpetrator?”  Read the letter.


Honorable Mention: Sophia Foster, Homeschool, Round Rock, TX, grade 7

“The fact of the matter is, we have made worlds of progress, but we’re behind where we could be. The circumstances you were born to and what you look like are still the most important factor of any American’s life. Even one hundred years later, people are still willing to keep what they have and take more, to the detriment of others.” Read the letter.


Follow this link to learn more about The Historic New Orleans Collection’s educational programs and upcoming opportunities for young people of all ages.

About The Historic New Orleans Collection

Founded in 1966, The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to the stewardship of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Follow THNOC on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.