Friday, February 27, 2009

Shirley Chisholm




In 1972, thirty-seven years before Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, there was Shirley Chisholm. Black, Female. Running for president.

Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York,in 1924, but was just three, when she was sent to live with her grandmother on a farm in Barbados. It was there that she received much of her primary education; the Barbadian school system stressed the traditional British teachings of reading, writing, and history. Chisholm credits much of her educational successes to this well-rounded early education.

Chisholm returned to New York when she was ten, during the height of the Great Depression. Life was not easy for the Chisholms in New York, and Shirley's parents sacrificed greatly for their eight children. Chisholm attended New York public schools and was able to compete well in the mainly white classrooms. She attended Girls' High School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, and won tuition scholarships to several distinguished colleges. However, unable to afford the room and board, and at the urging of her parents ,she decided to live at home and attend Brooklyn College.
While studying to be a teacher, Chisholm became active in several campus and community groups, developed an interest in politics and learned the arts of organizing and fund-raising. She developed a deep resentment toward the role of women in local politics, which, at the time, consisted mostly of staying in the background and playing a secondary role to their male equals. Women were secretaries, and got the coffee, for men who ran for office. Chisholm, through campus politics and her work with the NAACP, found a way for her voice, her opinions, to be heard.

Graduating with honors from Brooklyn College in 1946, Chisholm began work as a nursery school teacher and later as a director of schools for early childhood education. She became politically, and vocally, active with the Democratic Party, earning a reputation as one who challenged the traditional roles of women, African Americans, and the poor. In 1949, she married Conrad Chisholm, and the couple settled in Brooklyn.
After a successful career as a teacher, Chisholm decided to run for the New York State Assembly. Her ideals were perfect for the times; it was the mid-60s, the civil rights movement in full swing, and all across America activists were working for equal civil rights for everyone, regardless of race. In 1964 Chisholm was elected to the assembly.
During her service in the assembly Chisholm sponsored fifty bills, but only eight passed. One of the successful bills she supported provided assistance for poor students to go on to higher education, while another provided employment insurance coverage for personal and domestic employees. Still another bill reversed a law that caused female teachers in New York to lose their tenure if they took maternity leave.
In 1968, Chisholm decided to run for the U.S. Congress. Although her opponent was the well-known civil rights leader James Farmer, Shirley Chisholm won the election and began a long career in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As a Congresswoman, Chisholm focused her attention on the needs of her constituents, while serving on several House committees: Agriculture, Veterans' Affairs, Rules and Education, and Labor. When she was assigned to the Forestry Committee, Chisholm protested her appointment and said that she wanted to work on committees that dealt with issues that affected her district. Forestry issues had little or no importance to the people she represented in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
During the Vietnam War, Chisholm was one of the first, and the most outspoken, to protest the amount amount of money being spent on defense, while social programs suffered. Chisholm argued that money should not be spent for war while many Americans were hungry, poorly educated, and without adequate housing.
Chisholm was also a strong supporter of women's rights. Early in her career as a congresswoman, she took a stand on abortion, and supported a woman's right to choose. She also spoke against traditional roles for women professionals, arguing that women were capable of entering many other professions. Black women especially, she felt, had been pushed into stereotypical roles, or conventional professions, such as maids and nannies; roles white women no longer wanted. Chisholm supported the idea that black women needed to escape, not just by governmental aid, but also by self-effort. Her antiwar and women's liberation views made Chisholm a popular speaker on college campuses in the late 60s and early 70s.
In 1972 Chisholm decided to run for President. In addition to her interest in civil rights, she spoke out about the judicial system in the United States, police brutality, prison reform, gun control, drug abuse, among other topics. While Shirley Chisholm did not win the Democratic nomination, she did win an impressive 10 percent of the votes within the party. As a result of her candidacy, Chisholm was voted one of the ten most admired women in the world.
After her unsuccessful presidential campaign, Chisholm continued to serve in the House of Representatives until 1982. As a member of the Black Caucus, she was able to see the growth of black representation in the Congress grow.

In 1982, Shirley Chisholm announced her retirement from Congress.
While continuing her teaching after retiring from public life, Chisholm taught politics and women's studies at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts; she was also the visiting scholar at Spelman College.

In 1987 she retired from teaching altogether.

Chisholm continued to be involved in politics by cofounding the National Political Congress of Black Women in 1984, working on Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.

In 1993, President Clinton nominated Chisholm for the position of Ambassador to Jamaica, but Chisholm, because of declining health, turned down the nomination.

She was the nation's first black congresswoman.
She was the nation's first black presidential candidate.
She stood up for African Americans.
She stood up for the poor.
She stood up for women.
She fought against war.
She was a teacher.

She was a remarkable woman.

2 comments:

Wonder Man said...

She was a great woman...thanks for the reminder

Berry Blog said...

Hooray- you remembered her! I thought of her all through the campaign wondering about this "first" business. I was THERE during her service. Unfortunately for a Presidential campaign she had a noticeable lisp and a small quiet voice- not the bombastic barnstorming style of Hilary. Needless to say, it wasn't easy to get media attention either except locally in NY tri state area.She was adamant and articulate and there was no mistake in her message for those who got to hear it.
xoxoxo Charlie