November 30 – Happy Birthday, Shirley Chisholm

Posted on November 30, 2014

The year was 1972.

Shirley Chisholm took a bold step: she threw her hat in the biggest ring there is in the United States.

Chisholm became the first African American person to ever make a bid for a major party's presidential nomination. Also, she was the first woman to ever run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

I remember her candidacy. I was young, idealistic, and so excited to be a part of history. In the primary elections, my state (California) ended up giving her the largest number of votes of any other state. Still, she ended up fourth among all the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

I gather that she didn't really expect to win the nomination—and she didn't—but she ran to demonstrate “sheer will” and her “refusal to accept the status quo.” 

After the nomination of Senator George McGovern was certain, candidate Hubert Humphrey made a symbolic gesture and released all of his black delegates to Chisholm. Those delegates, along with all the delegates she won during the primary season, made Chisholm the fourth-ranking candidate in the Democratic Party. Not bad, considering the fact that she faced impossible odds!

By the way, I talked so much about Chisholm's brave, memorable, and meaningful presidential run, I neglected to say what she ran for an won:

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman ever elected to Congress! She represented New York in the House of Representatives.

More on Chisholm:

  • She was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were immigrants from Caribbean island nations. Chisholm spent about seven years in Barbados attending a strict elementary school, and for the rest of her life she had a slight “West Indian” accent.

  • Before she became a politician, Chisholm was an educator.
  • Chisholm also wrote two autobiographical books (that is, books about her own life). Don't you love the titles? They are Unbought and Unbossed and The Good Fight.

Celebrate Shirley Chisholm!

Check out some videos of and about Shirley Chisholm. Here's one.

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