We are a week removed from the powerful Women’s March on DC. It reminded me of an article I wrote last year about Shirley Chisholm. I was astonished as I read the comments on that article. Women were telling me that they had never heard of her. For that reason, it’s worth a reprint.
Shirley Chisholm: Unbought and Unbossed
I’d like to take a moment to remember that forty-five years ago Shirley Chisholm made history as she announced her candidacy for the White House. Although her bid for the presidency was brief, it is just as powerful now as it was then.
I was young when this happened but I remember small bits about her candidacy. It saddens me that I don't remember more about the power and meaning behind this act. If you would have told me then that forty-four years later, we still would not have a female president, I would have been surprised. But, this is not about Feminism. It's about a human being who happened to be female and black.
It's about a Candidate of the People of America.
Shirley Chisholm was a trailblazer. She was the first African American congresswoman and she was the first African American to run for major party for President of the United States. She's an icon who deserves larger credit and consideration than I believe history has afforded her.
Early Life and Career
Chisholm was born in 1924, in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Brooklyn College in 1946, she began her teaching career and went on to earn a master's degree in Elementary Education from Columbia University. In 1968, she made history by becoming the United States' first Black congresswoman, beginning the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives.
"I have no intention of just sitting quietly and observing. I intend to focus attention on the nation's problems." – Shirley Chisholm
Her first assignment was to the House Forestry Committee, but that didn’t sit well with her. Her vocal response surprised many and she demanded reassignment. She then moved on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and eventually moved to the Education and Labor Committee. In 1969, Chisholm became one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Chisholm Trail
In 1972, she went on to make history once again by becoming the first major-party Black candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency when she ran for the Democratic nomination.
Her bid for the presidency was referred to as the “Chisholm Trail” and much of her support came from students, women, and minority groups. But money was a challenging factor.
Her campaign was under-financed and the lack of funds eventually took its toll. She was, however, able to capitalize on her personal 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, whose campaign motto was "Unbought and Unbossed," met her campaign charge head–on, highlighting discrimination against women, the underprivileged, and minority groups. This was demonstrated in the type of legislation she fought for in Congress. She championed a bill to guarantee that domestic workers received proper benefits, she was an advocate for enhanced access to education, and she fought for the rights of immigrants. She also sponsored a bill to increase childcare for women and supported the national school lunch bill.
A 1974 Gallup Poll listed her as one of the top 10 most–admired women in America—ahead of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Coretta Scott King and tied with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for sixth place.
This ‘Woman thing' is So Deep
But, there was conflict even in her own party and it cut beyond racial lines: "Black male politicians are no different from white male politicians. This ‘woman thing' is so deep. I've found it out in this campaign if I never knew it before."
In 1982, Chisholm declined to seek re–election citing personal reasons for her decision to leave the House. After leaving Congress in January 1983, Chisholm helped co-found the National Political Congress of Black Women. She also taught at Mt. Holyoke College in 1983. She settled in Palm Coast, Florida, where she wrote and lectured until she died in 2005.
"Candidate of the People of America"
In announcing her presidential campaign on January 27, 1972, at the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY, Chisholm said:
"I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America.
I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud.
I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that.
I am not the candidate of any political bosses or fat cats or special interests.
I stand here now without endorsements from many big name politicians or celebrities or any other kind of prop. I do not intend to offer to you the tired and glib cliches, which for too long have been an accepted part of our political life.
I am the candidate of the people of America. And my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history."
As I sit here and read through my political Twitter feed, I appreciate Shirley Chisholm even more. Let's celebrate the power of her movement.
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Johnston Osburn is a Career and Life Coach who helps people turn dreams into realities. After years as a Global Talent Acquisition Professional, she realized how frequently people limit themselves because they lack belief in their abilities. They are afraid to dream, let alone dream big. [...]