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In 1972, Shirley Chisholm ran for president of the United States of America as a Democrat. She didn't win, but this was not the beginning or the end of her career in politics. She held a congressional seat in the New York delegation for decades, and Shirley was a pioneer on many fronts. Today we'll learn about her life, her career, and her legacy.

Clint's book, How the Word is Passed is available now!

Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin.,1970).
● Marcy Kaptur, Women of Congress: A Twentieth­century Odyssey (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1996).
● Jill S. Pollack, Shirley Chisholm (New York: F. Watts, 1994).
● Barbara Winslow, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change ( UK: Routledge, 2013).

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CC Kids:
Hi, I’m Clint Smith and this is Crash Course Black American History!

Today we’re talking about the 1970s. Lots of things happened in the 70s, like bell bottoms, tinted glasses, and disco.

But something really important happened in 1972. Yes yes, I know your initial thought was well of course Clint, Stevie Wonder released his smash hit, Superstition. And while, I agree, Stevie Wonder is the GOAT, there was another important piece of Black history that happened that year.

In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman to seek the presidential nomination from any major political party in the United States. Today we’ll learn about Shirley Chisholm’s impact on society and how her historic campaign paved the way for so many Black political leaders today. Let’s start the show! (Intro Music) In the 1970s there were a number of movements happening in the United States, movements centered on Black, Latino, Indigenous, women, and LGBTQ communities were all organizing in an effort to obtain equal rights.

This is not to say that these movements were new, but that this time period saw a surge in their traction and their national prominence. And all of this was happening alongside the Anti-Vietnam war movement and the Sexual Revolution. It was a time when public consciousness was shifting.

All of these movements changed the way that people viewed relationships between men and women and traditional ideas about gender binaries. The movements also transformed youth culture and promoted a period of deep distrust in American authority and the older generation that perpetuated some of these institutional and traditional norms. Also during this time, there was an unfortunate shift in the economy.

There was massive deindustrialization and inflation. Deindustrialization–a decline in manufacturing and thus economic activity—was happening in many cities in parts of the Rust Belt - a part of the United States that consists of many communities that relied on factory work and coal production for economic security. There was a lot going on and a lot changing.

All of these dynamics - the social changes, economic shifts - also changed who was becoming involved in politics. Taking the concerns of marginalized people seriously—or at least acknowledging that these issues exist—started to become increasingly important for candidates to have political traction. Even though Black Americans had long tried to get involved in the electoral process in whatever ways they could, this moment was different because they could finally get more directly involved than perhaps they’d ever been before.

This era of politics immediately followed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. It essentially enfranchised Black Americans in the South by banning literacy tests and other practices that kept them from voting. This allowed for Black Americans to have their voices heard in the ballot box.

And honestly, when we think about when “American Democracy began” many scholars argue that it’s more accurate to say that it’s beginning was 1965 and not 1776, because before that, a significant majority of adults didn’t have the right to vote, one of the most foundational parts of any self-proclaimed democracy. And with Black people now able to vote, Black candidates became a more realistic possibility. And up steps, Shirley Chisholm.

Chisholm's candidacy and political practices were possible because of those political shifts. She proved that when you allow Black Americans to vote, electoral victories for Black candidates can happen. She represented Black people, but Black women specifically.

And she made a specific distinction between the challenges that Black women faced compared to Black men. She was also the child of immigrants, demonstrating how Black Americans are not a monolith, but come from a diverse set of backgrounds. Let’s learn a little bit more about Shirley's early life in the thought bubble.

Shirley Chisholm was born Shirley Anita St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York in 1924. She was a Black American of West Indian descent.

The oldest of four daughters, her parents were Charles St. Hill, a factory worker from Guyana, and Ruby Seale St. Hill, a seamstress from Barbados.

Both of their political ideologies aligned with those of the leader Marcus Garvey who preached fervently about Black self-determination. Shirley spent most of her childhood living with her maternal grandmother and actually received her early education in Barbados. She later said she'd learned to love her skin and her heritage from her grandmother and that her Caribbean identity played a huge role in her social and political views.

She returned to the United States in 1934 and credited her education in Barbados as the main reason she spoke and wrote so well. She graduated from Brooklyn’s Girls’ High School in 1942 and from Brooklyn College cum laude in 1946 where she pushed for more classes on Black history and also encouraged more women to get involved in student government. Her political interests also grew while in college.

A critical moment for the development of her political philosophy happened when she attended a speech by Stanley Steingut, a leader in the Brooklyn Democratic party. He claimed that Black people needed White people to get ahead. Shirley…did not agree and was inspired to do the exact opposite: prove that Black Americans were self-sufficient and could get ahead on their own.

Thanks Thought Bubble With a renewed sense of direction, Shirley kept her education going. As she worked in different roles as an early childhood education teacher and administrator, she continued taking graduate school classes and received her master's degree in early childhood education from Columbia University Teachers College in 1951. In 1964 she ran to be state representative of her local community, the mostly poor Black and Caribbean neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.

She won by a landslide and became the second African-American woman in the New York State legislature! In 1968, she ran for Congress. She ran against the veteran civil rights worker James Farmer, who was more politically conservative than her.

Farmer, instead of standing in solidarity with Chisholm and respecting her as a candidate, framed her as too bossy and too feminine to be a great leader. However, her support from local women - both Black and White - in a district where women outnumbered male voters more than two to one brought her to victory. Despite her historic win, she did not have an easy time when she made it to Capitol Hill.

She was quickly placed on the Committee on Agriculture, despite Brooklyn not really being known as a rural heartland. She was actually mostly okay with that, thanks to the committee’s role with food programs and migrant labor. Chisholm also played a critical role in developing the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children, better known as WIC today.

But then she learned she was going to be placed on the rural development and forestry subcommittee. And that was too much. She openly protested the assignment and her persistence paid off.

She was reassigned to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee—famously remarking “There are a lot more veterans in my district than there are trees.” But Chisolm wasn’t done yet. In January of 1972, she announced that she was running for the Democratic nomination for the presidency at the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. In her announcement she stated: "I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud.

I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman and equally proud of that … I am the candidate of the people of America … and my presence before you symbolizes a new era in American political history." Chisholm had always said that her greatest opposition came from men, regardless of race, and unfortunately, this proved to be especially true during her candidacy. One of her opponents that stood out the most was George Wallace, the former Governor of Alabama who had famously stated there would be “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever." He is most well known for the state-sanctioned violence he directed towards Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. So you had a person who was effectively the face of segregation and a person who was effectively the face of Black women in politics running in the same primary.

In the end though, neither Chisholm nor Wallace would become the Democratic nominee. Chrisholm's campaign was under-financed and she did not receive much support from the mostly male Congressional Black Caucus. But she did have some success!

She entered 12 primaries and gained 152 of the delegate’s votes, about 10% of the totals in those 12 primaries. She also made huge strides in coalition-building between women of all races and other liberal groups. Even though she did not receive the nomination, her candidacy and politics reflected the desire for change during these times.

She envisioned and shaped the narrative about creating a multicultural space for political engagement. But the animosity towards her candidacy also played a role in setting up the conservative backlash and the law-and-order agenda that we talked about in our previous episode on the War on Drugs. In 1983, Chrisholm retired from Congress.

She accepted the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and remained there until 1987. She collaborated with 15 other Black women in 1990 to establish the organization, African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom. She lived out her retirement in Florida until she passed away in 2005.

Chisholm made a huge impact on American politics. Even though she did not win the Democratic primary for president, her tenacity informed much of what we understand about liberal politics today. She also was an expert coalition builder and knew how to rally people together under common goals, even if they were different.

She inspired so many female politicians and highlighted the misogyny that was present even within the Black community. She laid the groundwork for subsequent nationwide campaigns for African Americans: Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 and Barack Obama in 2008. And in 2015, in a sort of full-circle moment, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Shirley Chisholm with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

If you want to learn more about Shirley Chisholm and the impact she had on American politics, check out her autobiography, Unbossed and Unbought. This book documents her rise to the U. S.

House of Representatives, and also has a really great title. Thanks for watching! I’ll see you next time.