In 2007 when Senator Hillary Clinton threw her hat into the ring to run against Senator Barack Obama for the POTUS, the highest office in the land, we knew we were in for exciting times. For the first time, America was wrapping its collective head around having a black president. Yet at the same time many were asking, “Is America ready for a woman president? That indeed was the question.
What many of us had forgotten is the question had been asked 35 years previously when an Uber confident, articulate, bold and beautiful black woman by the name of Shirley Chisholm rose upon the scene in 1972 to run for the same office. Indeed the question was asked, and then Senator Chisholm D, N.Y. didn’t waste time waiting for an answer. She swiftly went forward, putting her campaign in motion for the office of the President of United States of America. She arose in the corrupt times of the Vietnam War, fat cat politricksians and President “Tricky Dick”, and as far as she was concerned, a new time had dawned for someone with integrity to strike a blow for poor people. She declared herself that person, and the fact that she happened to be black and a woman did not deter her in the least.
Well just who was Shirley Chisholm? She was the daughter of Charles Christopher St. Hill and Ruby Seale, both immigrants from Barbados. She was born in Brooklyn New York on November 30, 1924. Shirley’s father came to the U.S. in April 1923, and met up with her mother who had arrived in 1921. When Shirley was three years old, her parents sent her to their homeland of Barbados to live with her maternal grandmother. Little Shirley didn’t return to the United States for seven years, and was grateful for the strict British education she received.
Shirley Chisholm earned her BA from Brooklyn College in 1946 and her MA from Columbia University in elementary education in 1952. From 1953-1959, she was Director of the Hamilton-Madison Day Care Center and from 1959-1964 she was an educational consultant for the Division of Day Care.
Shirley Chisholm entered politics after her career in education and was elected to the New York State Legislature in 1964. Later she ran as a Democrat and won New York’s 12th district congressional seat to the House of Representatives. In addition, she was a founding member and only woman of the original members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
As a freshman member of Congress, she was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee. She shocked many when she asked for a reassignment because she felt that the Agricultural Committe was irrelevant to her urban constituents. She was reassigned to the Veterans Affairs Committee. Soon after, she voted for Hale Boggs as the House Majority Leader, and as a reward for her support, he assigned her to the much prized Education and Labor Committee. She promptly hired an all-woman staff for her office, of which more than half were black. Shirley Chisholm’s work and focus were always geared towards improving living conditions for the people of the “inner city“.
She felt that the United States should have been spending more money for education, healthcare and social services, and less money for the military, and she was very vocal in her political position. During her campaign, she made a point of letting the people know that she was a “candidate for the people” and not for any “fat cats” or special interest groups.
In her bid for president of the United States, she understood that the odds were stacked against her actually winning the office. She explained that her main reason for running was to pave the way, and to “be a catalyst” for more people of color to enter politics and run for and win the presidency someday. Shirley Chisholm’s candidacy was above all one of integrity, and she showed great courage and fortitude throughout her campaign.
An in-depth report was done about her, which included a number of excerpts from her book “Unbought and Unbossed”, and is available at the PBS Documentaries with a POV (Point of View) website. There is also the documentary film, “Shirley Chisholm ’72, Unbought and Unbossed” created by black filmmaker Shola Lynch for public television. http://www.pbs.org/pov/chisholm/special_excerpt.php
Writer Donn Swaby wrote an interesting article for the Huffington Post in February 2008 concerning the fact that many of the high profile women of the Woman’s Movement rode the wave of Shirley’s hard won political rise and popularity as the first black woman running for president. These women never truly backed Shirley Chisholm’s presidential bid, and they abandoned her at voting time. Donn’s article also points out how even the Congressional Black Caucus refused to support Shirley’s bid. They couldn’t accept that a black woman was the first presidential hopeful rather than a black man.
After her campaign, Shirley Chisholm went back to Congress and continued to work for the uplift of people of color until she retired in 1982. Afterwards, she was named to the Purington Chair of the Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She taught there for four years and lectured frequently until the time of her death on January 1, 2005. She has inspired women and men alike, and many have stood on the foundation she built. Both Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D. Ca, who ironically is the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and President Barack Obama have benefitted greatly by the road paved by Shirley Chisholm.
Shirley Chisholm, our true revolutionary sister, unbought and unbossed!!
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