Brooklyn, NY

The First Black Woman to Be Nominated for President of the United States

Shirley ChisholmWikimedia commons

The history of the African-Americans is not a happy one. For years, black lives were victimized by racism in different fields of work. In such circumstances, survival was even more challenging if you were a female. Fighting this war of racism and gender inequality, Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman who not only joined the strongest political party but also stood for the neglected rights of the black people.

Who was Shirley Chisolm?

Digging into the background of Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisolm, she was born on 30th November in Brooklyn, New York, at the house of immigrant parents, Charles St. Hill, who was a factory worker from Guyana, and Ruby Seale St. Hill, who was from Barbados. She was the oldest of four daughters. For some part of her childhood, she lived at her Maternal Parent’s farm in Brooklyn, acquiring British education. This was the main reason for her pure British accent. In 1942, Chisholm graduated from “Brooklyn Girls’ High”, and in 1946, she graduated cum laude in sociology.

Throughout her college life, she achieved high scores and was an excellent debater, for which she won multiple prizes. After her graduation, she started teaching at a nursery school and then worked as a director of two daycare centres. In 1949, she married a private investigator named Conrad Q. Chisholm. They parted ways in 1977. In 1951, she earned a master’s degree from Columbia University. From 1959 to 1964, she worked as an educational consultant at Ney York City’s daycare division.

Beginning of Political Career

Due to her excellent performance in debates, Chisolm’s teacher in college advised her to go for a political career, but she responded that she faced a ‘double handicap’ by being black and female. However, she became the second African American in the New York State Legislature. In 1968, Chisolm won a seat in Congress after defeating three candidates in the primary elections and was ready to serve seven terms of Congress. In Congress, she was very vocal and had a strong impression of being liberal, as she opposed the development of weapons and the war going in Vietnam.

Accomplishments of Shirley Chisolm

From the very beginning, Chisolm had worked for domestic workers. She focused on unemployment benefits and made educational changes. Her outspoken nature made her stand out, as expressed by her slogan, “Unbought and Unbossed”. First, she was assigned with the House Agriculture Committee, but she demanded to be reassigned by saying that she was not a perfect fit for it. The house speaker, John McCormack, reassigned her to veteran Affairs and then to the Education and Labor Committee in 1971. As the victim of racism and gender discrimination herself, she hired all African American women for her office.

In 1969, the Congressional Black Caucus was founded, and Chisolm was one of the founding members. The Caucus ensured that African Americans had full legislative rights, and it fought for 48 years to empower these citizens. In 1972, she was nominated for the US President. Although she did not win the elections due to an under-financed campaign, she was also not allowed to do televised debates and just appeared in one speech. She also got life threats, for which she was granted secret service protection. Chisolm quoted,

“I’m a revolutionary at heart now and I’ve got to run, even though it might be the downfall of my career.”

Despite the unjust system, she managed to gain 152 delegates’ votes.

In 1971, she founded the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), a political organization to support women who wanted positions in the office. The organization aimed to raise a voice for women’s rights in the Government. It held workshops to help women run successful campaigns, providing information about fund-raising, developing a platform, encouraging volunteers, and obtaining media coverage. The NWSP worked with other powerful women’s groups and reviewed the profiles of women before submitting them to the administration. In 1977, she was remarried to Arthur Hardwick, a state legislator in New York.

What made her stand out was being the first black American woman to run for a major party and the first to go for the democratic nomination for such a powerful post.

Retirement from Congress

In 1982, she took retirement from Congress, but her urge to help others did not end with that. She was appointed as a Purington professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and continued to spread her wisdom to students of different colleges. In 1993, president Bill Clinton invited her to serve as an ambassador of Jamaica, but she declined the offer due to poor health conditions. She died at the age of 80 in 2005 in Ormond Beach, Florida. After five years of her death, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Buried in Buffalo, New York, her mausoleum vault reads, “Unbought and Unbossed”.

Influence on the Future World

Shirley Chisolm Forever Stamp’ became a part of the Black Heritage series in 2014. During her lifetime, she also authored two books, ‘Unbought and Unbossed’ in 1970 and ‘The Good Fight’ in 1973, which influenced future women not to fear gender discrimination.

Although Chisolm was unable to become the president of the United States, her work for the minorities is still remembered. She proved that being black and a female could not stop her from making a difference. She also set an example for the future African Americans who wanted to join the office, and many women looked up to her and became part of the Government.

It is also believed that her time of 14 years serving in Congress opened doors for other African American men and women. One such big example is former President Barack Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren. But she did not want to be remembered as the first black woman who joined Congress but as someone who had the guts to speak out despite the world’s unfairness.

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