We are standing on the shoulders of giants!
With election day right around the corner, we think it’s important to honor those who came before us. One of the most important and pivotal Black political figures of our time was Shirley Anita Chisholm; the first Black woman to run for president on the democratic ticket.
According to the U.S. House of Representatives, she was born Shirley Anita St. Hill on November 24, 1924. Chisholm was the oldest of four born to Charles St. Hill, a factory worker from Guyana, and Ruby Seale St. Hill, a seamstress from Barbados. Her parents settled in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn while Chisholm spent much of her childhood between NY and her grandparents’ farm in Barbados. After high school, Chisholm attended Brooklyn College, where she graduated cum laude with a BA in sociology, working as a nursery school teacher and daycare center director. At the same time, she pursued her postgraduate studies. She went on to obtain her masters in early childhood education from Columbia University in 1952, serving as an educational consultant for New York City’s division of daycare from 1959 to 1964.
It was the city’s redistricting of Chisholm’s neighborhood that forced her into politics, with the Democratic party eager to push a Black candidate from the new Bedford-Stuyvesant district into the House of Representatives. She ran her campaign fearlessly, focusing on the needs of the people with her unique campaign style.
“I have a way of talking that does something to people. I have a theory about campaigning. You have to let them feel you,” Chisholm once told reporters as she rode around the housing projects in her district, sound truck in tow, chanting, “Ladies and Gentlemen … this is fighting Shirley Chisholm coming through.”
Photo Courtesy of Women’sHistory.org
While Chisholm and her other Black competitors agreed on many issues surrounding the campaign, where they differed was the issue of gender. Chisholm used that to further highlight the discrimination women face from men. Her “Unbought and Unbossed” campaign was a source of contention with many men, Black and white alike.
“There were Negro men in office here before I came in five years ago, but they didn’t deliver. People came and asked me to do something … I’m here because of the vacuum,” she once said.
Chisholm won her campaign, garnering 67% of the votes and making history as the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1969. Despite obstacles and a chilly welcome, Chisholm held her ground. She advocated for the causes that meant the most to her, including denouncing the Vietnam war, fighting for veterans’ rights, serving on the Committee on Education and Labor, and increasing federal funding for daycares and annual family income. She also backed a national school lunch bill, becoming a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.
In 1972, Chisholm announced she would run as the Democratic nominee for President. She continued her “Unbought and Unbossed” campaign, declaring her intention to represent the interests of Black and minority voters and the inner-city poor. She traveled all across the country campaigning, succeeding in getting her name on 12 primary ballots, receiving 152 delegate votes, or 10% of the total at the Democratic National Convention, a feat given her funding. In 1974, a Gallup poll reported Chisholm as one of 10 most admired women in America, beating out Coretta Scott King and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at the time. While Chisholm didn’t win the race, she made history as the first Blackwoman to run for President, raising her national profile and bringing with it a larger national conversation around gender discrimination.
Photo Courtesy of History.com
Chisholm continued to fight for the people while in Congress, leaving in January 1983 and co-founding the National Political Congress of Black Women. She continued to use her platform to influence, educate, and advocate, backing Jesse Jackson’s presidential bids in 1984 and 1988. She was also a teacher at Mt. Holyoke College and settled in Florida, where she wrote and lectured until her death on January 1, 2005 at the age of 85. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by Forever President Barack Obama.
Below are 10 quotes from Chisholm, courtesy of Everyday Power, that will inspire you to take up the mantle of being “unbought and unbossed.”
“I’m looking to no man walking this earth for approval of what I’m doing.”
“It is not female egotism to say that the future of mankind may very well be ours to determine. It is a fact. The warmth, gentleness, and compassion that are part of the female stereotype are positive human values, values that are becoming more and more important as the values of our world begin to shatter and fall from our grasp.”
“Defeat should not be the source of discouragement, but a stimulus to keep plotting.”
“I ran for the presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo… to give a voice to the people the major candidates were ignoring. What I hope most is that now there will be others who will feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking, white male.”
“I am, and always will be a catalyst for change.”
“I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.”
“Women must become revolutionary. This cannot be evolution, but revolution.”
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
“We must reject not only the stereotypes that others hold of us, but also the stereotypes that we hold of ourselves.”
“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
Rest in Power, Shirley Chisholm. Because of you, we can!
Photo Credit: MCSM Rampage