What a privilege to share this article about one of my all-time favorite trailblazing politicians, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.
I was so fascinated by her life’s work that when her book “Unbossed and Unbought” was published, I got a copy hot off the press. Published in 1970, the read was so memorable for me, even at the tender age of 19, the year I got married. Chisholm kicked off with her historical announcement to run for president on Jan. 25, 1972, to a packed Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. She began by saying, “I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States of America.”
The first African American woman to run for president (Margaret Chase, a white senator from Maine, was the first woman to run for the office in 1964), Chisholm made history that day when she launched her campaign with the theme “Unbossed and unbought.”
The speech shared Chisholm’s platform focused on a better world with special emphasis on education. She closed her announcement with these words: “Join me in an effort to reshape our society and regain control of our destiny as we go down the Chisholm Trail for 1972.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1964, the daughter of immigrant parents, Shirley Anita St. Hill was her birth name. Her mother was from Barbados and her father from Guyana. At the age of 3, Shirley and her sisters were sent to Barbados to live with their grandmother for seven years. Upon their return home to Brooklyn, Chisholm graduated and went on to college. She was an educator and day care director.
Elected as a member of the Brooklyn State Legislature, she ran for a congressional seat four years later and won that, too. Like walking up stairs, Chisholm ran for president four years after that. She was on a mission.
Black women were her biggest supporters, with lots of white women supporters from National Organization of Women (NOW), too. Campaigning nationally, Chisholm endured much racism, and was nearly killed when a white man tried to stab her. Chisholm won 3.7% of the vote.
At the Democratic National Convention, Chisholm used her 152 delegates to influence the agenda, stating “I’m not running as a ‘Black’ although I’m Black and I’m proud” and I’m not running as a woman, though I’m equally proud to be a woman. I’m running for the people!”
Today, 48 years later, the Chisholm Trail continues, with women bold enough to take that journey. This campaign season, five women ran, with yet another dynamic Black woman, California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Harris, the former attorney general of California, traveled the “Chisholm Trail”: “I walked into the courtroom for the first time and said the five words that would guide my life’s work. Kamala Harris, for the people.”
Though all were unsuccessful, we quote the most extraordinary female presidential candidate in American history, Hillary Clinton, who garnered 18 million votes during her first run in 2008: “We’ve put 18 million cracks in that ‘glass ceiling!’” During her second run in 2016, it was 65 million cracks. Though Clinton did win the popular vote in 2016, she was blocked by the Electoral College.
Chisholm once said, “I’m not running to win, but I’m paving the way so Blacks can run and perhaps can win the office someday.”
The Chisholm Trail is still open for willing travelers!