Leading Lady : Shirley Chisholm

“In the end, anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism.”

Shirley Chisholm made history when she became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968. Chisholm's background was in early childhood education, but the ever-present issues of racial and gender inequality and lack of diverse representation in government pushed her to step into the political arena. She was elected to the New York State Legislature in 1964 where she served until winning a seat in Congress after court-ordered redistricting created a new district in her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. During her first term, she employed an all-female staff, half of whom were black.

Chisholm blazed another trail in 1972, becoming the first black major party candidate to make a bid for the United States Presidency. Aware of the disadvantages her race and gender imposed upon her, she ran to change the face of American politics. The campaign trail was strewn with discrimination. One reporter quipped that "a new bonnet" was thrown into the race to announce Chisholm's candidacy, and she had to sue to be included in televised debates. But even if she could not win the nomination, she could secure delegates for leverage at the Democratic National Convention and demonstrate her refusal to accept the status quo.

Throughout seven terms in Congress, Chisholm was a champion of minority education, employment opportunities, universal childcare, and healthcare. She was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women's Caucus. Though she did not win the Democratic nomination (spoiler alert: Richard Nixon won anyway), her campaign amplified the voice of the disenfranchised and changed the future of American politics. - Kelly Longhust


Photo Credit : Associated Press