Black History Month Series

Unbought and Unbossed, Black Revolutionary Politician of 1972

Who is Shirley Chisholm?

While watching another tag video on YouTube I was pleasantly surprised by the apparent Black History theme, the game, “Black Card Revoked” quizzed players on Black history and culture. Some of the questions were silly while others were serious, of the ones that were presented in the video a question about Shirley Chisholm caught my eye, “How many times was she almost assassinated?” It turns out the Chisholm avoided assassination over 5 times, but viewers who may have never even heard the name were left with during questions, “Who is Shirley Chisholm?” “What did she do?” and “Why were there so many attempts on her assassination?” She was lifting a veil from over the eyes of the country, the first African American congressmen in the United States and later the first major party black candidate to make a bid for  presidency.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was born in New York in 1914, the oldest daughter of dour to Charles St. Hill, a factory laborer from Guyana, and Ruby Seale St. Hill, a seamstress from Barbados. She came up during the time of the Great Migration when hundreds of Blacks were moving from the south up north for better opportunities, many seeking work in factories, a trend that continued through the 1960s. During the Great Depression her family settled in Bedford– Stuyvesant. Shirley was accepted and attended Brooklyn College on scholarship and impressively graduated cum laude with a B.A. in sociology in 1946. Through her college days she was a trailblazer, undaunted by her blackness or womanhood, although that along with her boldness made some around her uncomfortable. After receiving her B.A. she worked as a nursery school teacher as well as the director of two daycare institutions. Her leadership in these areas provoked her to get her Masters degree. She noticed how educated elevated her in positions of leadership in her community and three years after earning her M.A. in early childhood education from Columbia University she served as an educational consultant for New York City’s Division of Day Care from 1959 to 1964. In 1964, Chisholm was elected to the New York state legislature; she was the second African American woman to serve in Albany.

Paying the Price for Revolutionary Thinking

Her speech of revolutionary possibilities led to her wining the New Jersey primary, later winning 67% of the vote in New Jersey. She did not bite her tongue for sake of being acceptable. Although she was advised to, she refused to reject the endorsement of the Black Panther Party, scaring the party establishment. Party leaders were threatened by Chrisholm’s revolutionary promises to “reshape our society”. She stated, “There is little place in the political theme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter…Anyone who takes that role must pay a price.”
She constantly paid that price, fighting up against constant barriers that were brought about by her womanhood, blackness and the threatening combination of both. She had to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission just to be able to participate in the televised debates against McGovern ad Humphrey, she fought to get her name onto the ballots and ran her campaign on a shoestring budget that was a fraction of the size of her competitors. Her determination paid off, she won the a seat in the House of Representatives and was elected twice. Her undeterred motivation and roots in the Bedford neighborhood won her the privileged to represent a newly reapportioned district centered in Brooklyn, NY and was the 1st African American congresswoman and served over a decade in the House.
Shirley Chisholm was the first black major party candidate to run for president of the United States in 1972, under the clever slogan, “Unbought and Unbossed”. She shared after the election of Senator George McGovern for the democratic party, that she never expected to win but hoped to inspire others. The republican party Richard Nixon defeated McGovern in the final election. Imagine if Chisholm had been elevated to compete against Nixon in the final election and even if she’d won the presidential election? Her unbought and unbiased determination paved the way for women and African American politicians. Before Hilary Clinton (who is certainly bought) and Bernie Sanders (who is certainly bossed) there was the unsought and unbossed, Shirley Anita Chisholm.
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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It's a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one 'thing'. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!
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