A Name You Should Know: Shirley Chisholm
On January 27, Senator Kamala Harris
of California launched her campaign for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. A woman of color, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, Kamala Harris is already the popular choice of many Democrats. But she is not the first African American woman to run for either the Democratic or Republican nomination for President.
In 1972, like 2019, there was a divisive President, Richard Nixon. And, like Kamala Harris, there was an African American woman with immigrant roots willing to take on that President. Her name was Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm was a working-class woman from Brooklyn, New York. She was a prize-winning debater in college who was encouraged by professors to pursue a career in politics. Because she was black and a woman, she believed the obstacles to be too much to overcome. Instead of entering politics, she became an educator. Education would lead her to activism and eventually back to politics.
Focused on inequality and injustice of minorities, women and the poor
, Shirley Chisholm’s political insight helped win her a seat in the New York legislature in 1964 where she became the second African American to serve. Four years later in 1968, she challenged civil rights leader James Farmer and won a seat in the U.S. Congress making her the first African American woman elected to that body where she continued to fight for the rights of those in the minority, especially women. She served seven terms from 1969-1983.
In January 1972, Shirley Chisholm asked voters to join her on the “Chisholm Trail”
when she announced her candidacy for President of the United States. Those in political power, even some in her own party, considered Chisholm an outsider. She was running for the highest office in the country during a time when a female candidate much less a black candidate was unheard of. Her candidacy was overlooked by the establishment and the media. Supported by African Americans, feminists and youth, Shirley Chisholm ran on the slogan "Unbought and Unbossed"
because she would not give in or back down, even to her allies. She made the ballot in 12 states but garnered only 151 votes
at the Democratic convention.
Though her presidential run proved unsuccessful, Shirley Chisholm broke ground for African American women
with political aspirations, like Kamala Harris. Since Chisholm's time in Congress and her presidential run, 47
African American women have served in Congress (45 in the House and 2 in the Senate). In the current 116th Congress, there are a record 22
African American women serving in the House of Representatives.
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