Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. I’ll be posting a new “First Black” every day this month and every Wednesday for the months after that. In honor of WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH all March the articles will all be about first Black WOMEN… Today’s is Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) was an American politician, educator, and author. She was a Congresswoman, representing New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. In 1968, she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress. On January 25, 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination (US Senator Margaret Chase Smith had previously run for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination). She received 152 first-ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
In 1964, Chisholm ran for and was elected to the New York State Legislature. In 1968, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York’s 12th District congressional seat, and was elected to the House of Representatives. Defeating Republican candidate James Farmer, Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 as one of its founding members.
Chisholm was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee. Given her urban district, she felt the placement was irrelevant to her constituents and shocked many by asking for reassignment. She was then placed on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Soon after, she voted for Hale Boggs as House Majority Leader over John Conyers. As a reward for her support, Boggs assigned her to the much-prized Education and Labor Committee, which was her preferred committee. She was the third highest-ranking member of this committee when she retired from Congress.
All those Chisholm hired for her office were women, half of them black. Chisholm said that during her New York legislative career, she had faced much more discrimination because she was a woman than because she was black.
In the 1972 U.S. presidential election, she made a bid for the Democratic Party‘s presidential nomination. She survived three assassination attempts during the campaign. She campaigned in 12 states and won the Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey primaries earning 152 delegates. However, she lost the hotly contested primaries to George McGovern at the convention in Miami Beach, Florida. At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, as a symbolic gesture, McGovern opponent Hubert H. Humphrey released his black delegates to Chisholm, giving her a total of 152 first-ballot votes for the nomination. Chisholm’s base of support was ethnically diverse and included the National Organization for Women. Chisholm said she ran for the office “in spite of hopeless odds… to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.” Among the volunteers who were inspired by her campaign was Barbara Lee, who continued to be politically active and was elected as a congresswoman 25 years later. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem attempted to run as Chisholm delegates in New York.
Chisholm created controversy when she visited rival and ideological opposite George Wallace in the hospital soon after his shooting in May 1972, during the 1972 presidential primary campaign. Several years later, when Chisholm worked on a bill to give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage, Wallace helped gain votes of enough Southern congressmen to push the legislation through the House.
Throughout her tenure in Congress, Chisholm worked to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. She was a vocal opponent of the draft and supported spending increases for education, health care and other social services, and reductions in military spending.
In 1970, she authored the Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1972. The bill passed the House and the Senate, but was vetoed by President Richard Nixon, who called it “the Sovietization of American children”.
In the area of national security and foreign policy, Chisholm worked for the revocation of Internal Security Act of 1950. She opposed the American involvement in the Vietnam War and the expansion of weapon developments. During the Jimmy Carter administration, she called for better treatment of Haitian refugees.