We are now less than a month away from what’s likely the most significant American election of our lifetimes, and many, many people are mobilizing to get out the vote. Among them: a remarkable 102-year-old Jewish woman, Beatrice Lumpkin.
A photograph of Lumpkin mailing in her absentee ballot — while wearing a homemade hazmat suit — recently went viral on social media:
Lumpkin was born in 1918, during the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic. As the Forward reports, she grew up in a working-class Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx; her parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who worked in the garment industry — first in factories (including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the site of the deadly 1911 fire that catalyzed the Jewish labor movement) and then as owners of a laundry business.
As Lumpkin told the Washington Post, she hasn’t missed a presidential election since 1940 — and she wasn’t about to miss one now, pandemic or no. “It’s always important to vote, but this election — it’s the most important one of my life,” she said, adding that “democracy is on the line.”
Lumpkin has dedicated much of her long life to activism: She joined the Young Communist League in her teens, where she was introduced to pro-union and anti-fascist causes. In the 1960s, Beatrice advocated for the inclusion of Black authors and Black history in Chicago Public Schools, where she was a math teacher. She ultimately taught about the history of Egyptian mathematics and wrote a book for kids centering the “multicultural history of mathematics” called Senefer: A Young Genius in Old Egypt.
“When I was born, women couldn’t vote,” she told CBS radio’s WBMM station, adding that her first ballot was cast for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
As for this election, Lumpkin was a supporter of Bernie Sanders, but, as she told the Forward, “There’s no question that everything [Sanders] stands for requires the election of Joe Biden.”
As the photo of Lumpkin — wearing custom PPE designed by her grandson, Soren Kyale, also a Chicago Public Schools teacher — made its rounds online, many politicians, regular people, and organizations shared it, urging Americans to “be like Beatrice” and vote.
Lumpkin’s dedication to voting is a message of hope we all so desperately need right now. She also has a message for Jewish Americans, in particular: “Racism lives on, antisemitism lives on,” she told the Forward. “It’s always important for Jews to vote.”
Header image via Chicago Teachers Union Instagram