Unbossed and Unbought

Strength in Shirley Chisholm. Her portrait in Congress, by Kadir Nelson, unveiled in 2009

Shirley Chisholm was the first in many ways in the United States–

  • first black woman in Congress
  • first freshman Congress member to ask for and get her committee assignment changed
  • first woman to run to be the Democratic party’s nominee for president
  • first black candidate for a major party’s presidential nomination
  • first woman to win a state in a presidential primary (New Jersey ’72)
  • first African American to win a state in a presidential primary (New Jersey ’72)

My guess is there are more firsts in her distinguished career.

Shirley was known as “Fighting Shirley” for her work fighting for justice for women and poor people. About her childhood, Shirley said this:

“Mother always said that even when I was 3, I used to get the 6- and 7-year-old kids on the block and punch them and say, ‘Listen to me.'”

Shirley’s first career was as a teacher. She earned an MA in elementary education from Teachers College at Columbia University. She married twice but she did not have any children of her own, so today I wondered what would have happened if I could have had Shirley Chisholm in my home when I was a young girl. What if I could have spent my young years with her, listening to her wisdom, allowing her words to scrub my ears and brain of the propaganda I had absorbed about white and black people while I was living in Los Angeles County before the Civil Rights Act? But she didn’t come to my house.

When I was a young teen she went on to run for president. Her candidacy was an anomaly to me. I very occasionally caught sight of one of her campaign buttons or posters and remember wondering who could be so brave to do what she was doing, needing Secret Service details to protect her from multiple assassination attempts. At the same time, I also remember knowing she was going to lose and thinking why bother.

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 I am equally proud of that…I am the candidate of the people of America, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.”

Instead, had I grown up with Shirley, I would have become a different person–one who undoubtedly would have gone out on the campaign trail with her, not thinking about losing, but going for it, better understanding the fight before us. In Shirley’s words:

“I ran because somebody had to do it first. In this country, everybody is supposed to be able to run for president, but that has never really been true.”

I hope I would have embraced her message and tried to fight for the “new era in American political history” of which Ms. Chisholm spoke.

Later in life, Shirley Chisholm said she didn’t want to be remembered as a candidate for president or her Congressional service, but instead she said this:

“I’d like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.”

Even as a teen, I noticed Shirley. Today I’m dreaming that I might have spent time with her and been able to get some of those guts to rub off on me.

Learn more about Shirley Chisholm here.

Today’s prompt is by Jon Batiste. His song for today is “Home” composed by Cory Wong and Jon. The prompt was to “identify someone…who, if you’d grown up with them, would have changed your worldview.” We were to write a letter to them, but instead I shared a little about one of my brave sheros. This post is also for the Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers.

Today is Tuesday, Day 98 in Bahrain, day 63 of The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad.


4 thoughts on “Unbossed and Unbought

  1. Thank you for this post of light, powerful light. Shirley Chisholm shows us the brave steps we must take. I love her quote from childhood, punching kids and saying ‘listen to me!’ I would have loved to been a neighborhood pal of hers! Such strength from her earliest days.

    1. Maureen, it would have been great to meet her, wouldn’t it? I like how you describe her as powerful light. I see that in her portrait. She can teach us the brave steps we need to take. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. What you are doing with the Isolation Journals prompts is a wonderful thing. I watched Maddow’s clip: “She complained.” But she acted. This is what must happen: ACTION. (Uncanny similarities between then and now, and here we still are.)

    1. Patricia, yes, it is devastating to see that more than 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr., and Shirley Chisholm did their work that we are still at this place. It shows how powerful and ingrained the white supremacy is. It’s in our water, our blood, our air, our roots. We take a baby step each 50 years.

      Thanks again for telling me about the Isolation Journals.

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