Woman of the Week

Woman of the Week
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The First Black Presidential Candidate

"The United States was said not to be ready to elect a Catholic to the Presidency when Al Smith ran in the 1920's. But Smith's nomination may have helped pave the way for the successful campaign John F. Kennedy waged in 1960. Who can tell? What I hope most is that now there will be others who will feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking white male." --Shirley Chisholm.

This woman who with her incisive wit, drive, courage and foresight cut a path for Barack Obama and all blacks to the Oval office of the White House was a first generation American of Barbadian descent born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1924. At three she was sent to her grandmother in Barbados for a few years which she credits with her educational success for starting her off with a traditional British styled education. Then she returned to America at the height of the Depression at age ten. When it came time to go to college she was accepted to several great ones with tuition scholarships but unable to afford the room and board Chisholm attended Brooklyn college instead. She received her BA in 1946 and later an MA in elementary education from Columbia in 1952.

"One distressing thing is the way men react to women who assert their equality: their ultimate weapon is to call them unfeminine. They think she is anti-male; they even whisper that she's probably a lesbian."-- Shirley Chisholm

It was while she was on campus that Chisholm first became active in various campus groups. Later on while working in the educational field she became active with the Democratic Party fighting for women and blacks. As the Civil Rights movement swell crested Chisholm decided to run for The New York State assembly and was elected in 1964 where she sponsored fifty bills. In 1968 she was the first black woman elected into the House of Congress and in 1972 was the first black presidential candidate. After failing to win she was voted one of the ten most admired women in the world and continued in Congress until she retired in 1982. Chisholm fought for justice and equality on many fronts by speaking out on topics such as police brutality, prison reform, and a woman's right to choose. She earned a reputation as a challenger of the status quo.

Shirley Chisholm was married twice. First to Conrad Chisholm (1949-1977) and then to Arthur Hardwick Jr., who died in 1986. Shirley died in 2005.

You can learn more about Shirley Chisholm by reading "Chisholm '72 - Unbought & Unbossed."

"I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself." -- Shirley Chisholm

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