Shirley Chisholm and Her Historic Run for President

25th January 1972: US Representative Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn announces her entry for Democratic nomination for the presidency, at the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. Manhattan borough president Percy Sutton applauds at right. (Photo by Don Hogan Charles/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign has been called historic by a myriad of different news outlets. CNN lauded her “the first woman to capture a major-party nomination for president.” While that may be true, Clinton’s presidential run was not unprecedented. Her attempt at breaking what she calls “the highest and hardest glass ceiling” was not the first. Before Clinton’s campaign secured her a place in the history books, there was Shirley Chisholm.

Chisholm announced her presidential bid in a press conference on January 25, 1972. “I am not the candidate of America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I’m a woman and I’m equally proud of that,” she said.

“I am the candidate of the people of America.”

Chisholm’s speech, written in response to the Nixon administration, addressed issues that are still relevant in today’s politics. She talked about political manipulation, deceit, the administration’s indifference to individual problems and the “disgusting playing of divisive politics.” She called out Nixon and his team for “pitting the young against the old, labor against management, north against south, black against white.” She talked about protecting the environment, encouraged young people to protest peacefully in order to bring about change, and pushed for limiting the money rich people donate to political candidates.

The concerns that Chisholm had in 1972 mirror those of politicians today. Some of the same issues she spoke about were topics in the 2016 presidential debates. She advocated for women to be involved in politics at the city, state and national level. She expressed her belief that women in elected offices would make it possible for certain legislations to get more attention. Those legislations included daycare centers, education, social services and mental services.  The question is, was Chisholm’s speech ahead of its time or are we still in the same place we were over 40 years ago?

Prior to her presidential run, Chisholm was the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress.

Her biography on the US House of Representatives website is extensive. It details her childhood in New York, her career as a teacher and an education consultant, her election to the House of Representatives, her experience in Congress, her presidential campaign, her departure from Congress and her establishment of the National Political Congress of Black Women. She championed causes such as guaranteed minimum annual income for families, extended hours at daycare facilities and federal assistance for education. She was known for being outspoken and was determined not to just sit and observe, but to focus on the nation’s problems.

Although Chisholm’s campaign didn’t end in her becoming president, she did make progress. She managed to get her name on 12 primary ballots and garner 152 delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention. Her campaign increased her visibility and set an example for a woman running for president. When the highest and hardest glass ceiling that Clinton spoke about is broken, Shirley Chisholm will be part of the reason why.


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