Saturday, October 18, 2008

Unbought and Unbossed

I found out about Shirley Chisholm a little while ago when reading a book about Bella Abzug (I'll probably get to that in another post). But anyhow, I kept wondering why during the Democratic Primaries when everyone was picking between Barack and Hilary no one was mentioning Shirley Chisholm the African American woman who ran for president in 1972.
Shirley was born in 1924 in Brooklyn to immigrant parents. She grew up primarily in Brooklyn though she spent a few years in Barbados. Although she was accepted to Vassar, Shirley chose to stay in Brooklyn and attend Brooklyn College and then Columbia Teachers College. She worked for a time at the Hamilton-Madison Childcare Center, moving up to become the director, and eventually became very active in local politics. In 1960 she founded the Unity Democratic Club which worked to mobilize black and Hispanic voters.
In 1964 she ran for and won a spot on the New York General Assembly. After her term there she ran in 1968 to represent New York's Twelfth Congressional District. She won and became the first African American woman to be elected to Congress. She hired an all female staff and championed equal rights for blacks, women, and the poor. She was also vocally against the Vietnam war. She co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) and won a second term in 1970.
In 1972 she became the first African American ever to run for President of the United States. She was also the first female candidate to be recognized by the Democratic National Convention. I find it interesting that although women had run for president before, Shirley said "Of my two "handicaps" being female put more obstacles in my path than being black."
Although the nomination went to McGovern, Shirley received 151 of the delegates votes. She served in Congress till 1982 making incredible progress by fighting for the minimum wage and against the draft as well as for the rights of underrepresented people everywhere. When she retired from Congress she taught at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts for four years and eventually passed away in 2005.
There is obviously a great deal that both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton (not to mention the rest of us) owe to Shirley and I think in this heated election moment its really helpful to look back and recognize those who made the path a little easier. Shirley's campaign slogan was "Fighting Shirley Chisholm--Unbought and Unbossed". There's a cool movie made about her run for president that's also called Unbought and Unbossed. Here's a clip.....

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