Shirley Chisholm is NOT to be forgotten now or ever.

keeping honest chisholmThe thing that angers me about Obama and Clinton is this is NOT a historical first with regards to a black person or a woman seeking the presidency. The REAL historical first is Shirley Chisholm back in 1972.

Clinton has been using Chisholm’s legacy as a pawn with black folks and black women since one of the things she did as a junior senator is contribute to legislation honoring her. That’s it.

Obama, on the other hand, has channeled her “Unbought and Unbossed” campaign into an appeal to the people, catered to the hopes of young people with complete audacity, and has painted himself as the Every Person Candidate. That’s it.

Just as Chisholm did! Before Jesse Jackson, even!

It’s no coincidence or surprise from either politician to give her lip service about what she did. I mean, I read these words from Chisholm and it sounds like something Obama’s used in his speeches in almost the exact same words:

“You can be part of the system without being wedded to it,” I say. “You can take part in it without believing that everything it does is right. I don’t measure America by its achievement, but by its potential. There are still many things that we haven’t tried — that I haven’t tried — to change the way our present system operates. I haven’t exhausted the opportunities for action in the course I’m pursuing. If I ever do, I cannot at this point imagine what to do next. You want me to talk to you about revolution, but I can’t do that. I know what it would bring. My people are twelve percent of the population, at most fifteen percent. I am pragmatic about it: revolution would be suicide.”

Chisholm’s the one who paved the way. All these folks can spin Obama and Clinton as historical firsts and discard the importance of her run post-Civil Rights Acts era. I don’t buy the “first with a chance” theory. The fact that she ran knowing that she may not win reflects more on the superficiality of the American people than it does on the merits of her campaign and her spirit. Junior Congresswoman vying for the ticket, all of that. People have thrown lip service in her direction and a few quick glances; but if they look at her ideals you can see so much of her in this season. So much, and yet not enough.

campaign chisholmSuch leaders must be found. But they will not be found as much as they will be created, by an electorate that has become ready to demand that it control its own destiny. There must be a new coalition of all Americans — black, white, red, yellow and brown, rich and poor — who are no longer willing to allow their rights as human beings to be infringed upon by anyone else, for any reason. We must join together to insist that this nation deliver on the promise it made, nearly 200 years ago, that every man be allowed to be a man. I feel an incredible urgency that we must do it now. If time has not run out, it is surely ominously short.

And ironically, when I look back at descriptions of how Chisholm ran her campaign and garnered support, tactically Obama’s rhetoric squares with hers. (Aside: Why is this historical first’s biography out of print?)

On Young People and Change

One question bothers me a lot: Who’s listening to me? Some of the time, I feel dishearteningly small and futile. It’s as if I’m facing a seamless brick wall, as if most people are deaf to what I try to say. It seems so clear to me what’s wrong with the whole system. Why isn’t it clear to most others? The majority of Americans do not want to hear the truth about how their country is ruled and for whom. They do not want to know why their children are rejecting them. They do not dare to have to rethink their whole lives. There is a vacuum of leadership, created partly by the bullets of deranged assassins. But whatever made it, all we see now is the same tired old men who keep trucking down front to give us the same old songs and dances.

chisholm legacy

There are no new leaders coming along. Where are they? What has happened suddenly? On the national level, on the state level, who commands respect, who is believed by a wide enough cross section of the population to qualify as a leader? I don’t see myself as becoming that kind of a leader. My role, I think, is more that of a catalyst. By verbalizing what is wrong, by trying to strip off the masks that make people comfortable in the midst of chaos, perhaps I can help get things moving.

It may be that no one can have any effect on most adults on this society. It may be that the only hope is with the younger generation. If I can relate to them, give them some kind of focus, make them believe that this country can still become the America that it should have been, I could be content. The young may be slandered as “kooks” and “societal misfits” by frightened, demagogic old men, but that will not scare them. They are going to force change. For a while they may be beaten down, but time is on their side, and the spirit of this generation will not be killed. That’s why I prefer to go around to campuses and talk with the kids rather than attend political meetings. Politicians tell me I’m wasting my time and energy. “They don’t vote,” I’m told. Well, I’m not looking for votes. If I were, I would get the same kind of reception that a lot of political figures get when they encounter young people, and I would deserve it.

There are many things I don’t agree with some young zealots about. The main one, I suppose, is that I have not given up — and will not give up until I am compelled to — my belief that the basic design of this country is right. What is essential is to make it work, not to sweep it away and substitute — what? Something far worse, perhaps.

Most young people are not yet revolutionary, but politicians and police and other persons in power almost seem to be conspiring to turn them into revolutionaries. Like me, I think, most of them are no more revolutionary than the founders of this country. Their goals are the same — to insure liberty and equality of opportunity, and forever to thwart the tyrannous tendencies of government, which inevitably arise from the arrogance and isolation of men who are securely in power. All they want, if it were not too fashionable for them to say so, is for the American dream to come true, at least in its less materialistic aspects. They want to heal the gaping breach between this country’s promises and its performance, a breach that goes back to its founding on a Constitution that denied that black persons and women were full citizens. “Liberty and justice for all” were beautiful words, but the ugly act was that liberty and justice were only for white males. How incredible that it is nearly 200 years since then, and we have still to fight the same old enemies! How is it possible for a man to repeat the pledge of allegiance that contains these words, and then call his fellow citizens “social misfits” when they are simply asking for liberty and justice?

Such schizophrenia goes far back. “All forms of commerce between master and slave are tyranny,” intoned Thomas Jefferson, who is rumored to have had several children by black women on his estate. If the story is true, the great democrat was a great hypocrite. Even if it is not true, it has verisimilitude. It could be a perfect metaphor for the way our country was founded and grew, with lofty and pure words on its lips and the basest bigotry hidden in its heart.

The main thing I have in common with the kids is that we are tired of being lied to. What we want is for people to mean what they say. I think they recognize at least that I’m for real. They know most adult are selling something they can’t deliver.

I wonder if Gloria Steinem even remembers what she wrote about Shirley Chisholm as she shills for Sen. Clinton, or if any of the Obamaniacs recognize the person who tried it first.

Perhaps the best indicator of her campaign’s impact is the effect it had on individual lives. All over the country, there are people who will never be quite the same: farm women in Michigan who were inspired to work in a political campaign for the first time; Black Panthers in California who registered to vote, and encouraged other members of the black community to vote, too; children changed by the sight of a black woman saying, “I want to be President”; radical feminists who found this campaign, like that of Linda Jenness in the Socialist Workers’ Party, a possible way of changing the patriarchal system; and student or professional or “blue-collar” men who were simply impressed with a political figure who told the truth as she say it, no matter what the cost.

The Chisholm candidacy didn’t forge a solid coalition of those people working for social change; that will take a long time. But it began one. If you listen to personal testimony from very diverse sources, it seems that the Chisholm candidacy was not in vain. In fact, the truth is that the American political scene may never quite be the same again.

So perhaps it is time for the electorate to ask ourselves honestly what we want to see our President do, instead of listening to what they want to do for us.

With more straight talk and crystal clear positions. (PDF) Her announcement speech:

I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America. (Clapping.)

I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. (Clapping.)
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. (Clapping.)

I am not the candidate of any political bosses or fat cats or special interests.” (Clapping. cheers).

I stand here now without endorsements from many big name politicians or celebrities or any other kind of prop. I do not intend to offer to you the tired and glib clichés, which for too long have been an accepted part of our political life. I am the candidate of the people of America. And my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.

I have always earnestly believed in the great potential of America. Our constitutional democracy will soon celebrate its 200th anniversary, effective testimony, to the longevity to our cherished constitution and its unique bill of rights, which continues to give to the world an inspirational message of freedom and liberty.

We Americans are a dynamic people…

More on the inside of the campaign.

And no white feminist would dare say she neglected women’s rights.

But I understand why most people now would rather have you forget her. She is perhaps the first black woman who knew her place and dared to ask people to help her get there.


“The Chisholm candidacy… confused and unsettled the niggers — and by niggers, I don’t mean just the black niggers, but also the student niggers and the woman niggers and the poor niggers — plus a whole lot of other people who thought they were revolutionaries but discovered they couldn’t dig her wig.”

— Florynce Kennedy, lawyer, black activist, a founder of the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Party

(Above quote added for Daisy after I recognized the speaker! Hehe, gracias! ;))

About problem chylde
"In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:6

31 Responses to Shirley Chisholm is NOT to be forgotten now or ever.

  1. Blackamazon says:



  2. nezua says:

    A fantastic, sorely needed post! Wow!

  3. Tracey says:

    Shirley Chisholm is one of the coolest and most inspiring figures of all time. The 2004 documentary about her presidential campaign should be required viewing in every school.

  4. Emily says:

    A fantastic and inspiring post. Thank you for the education!

  5. jose says:

    On point. She looks like one of my co-teachers, so I’m inclined to put that in for someone else. I have a problem with Obama and Clinton in general with regards to their ed. policies, but other than that, I’d have to push Obama to the fore. Anyways, Ms. Chisolm, you’re a legend and people need to recognize you for you. Fortunately, you were recognized.

    Good post.

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  7. Tom says:

    I was very young then, but I assume the women of the USA all voted for her? Or did something else turn out more important than gender for some of them?

  8. Deidra says:

    Wow! I’m speechless at this post…this is a beautiful and moving post :)

  9. octogalore says:

    Nice work. Love your last sentence.

  10. Temple3 says:


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  12. w. anderson says:

    Amazing! I was not sure where I heard the words before but now I know. As I have shared with other individuals, Obama is using excerpts and copying quotes and text from speeches of others. Of course it is not out right plagerism but it is close. And the sad thing about it — he is called the ONE! But he is not the ONE! I want to hear originality from him, not speech summaries that belong to others. When he begins to speak with original ideas, vision and plans for the American people, only then will I take him seriously. As for Shirley Chisolm, she was a product of the society which remains embedded with gender bais and sexism. So many foolish young people do not know political history and their following of Obama is hurting the political process. Political stupidity is going to be the ruin of us all. I wish Shirley was alive.

  13. Ann says:


    I am floored.

    Another one of your masterful and monumental posts!

    I did a post-within-a-post on the late great Rep. Shirley Chisholm ( )

    My post pales in comparison to yours, but, I thank you so much for reminding people of Shirley.

    That there are many people who know so little of her campaign for the office of president of the United States is one thing.

    That so many people WHO LIVED through that time either speak nothing of her nor know nothing of her campaign is even more insulting to Shirley’s legacy. . . .Shirley’s paving the way for Obama and Clinton.

    Thank you again for this wonderful tribute to Shirley.

    To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.

    And Sylvia,you have spoken most admirably for Shirley.


  14. Ann says:

    If you do not mind Sylvia, I would like to link/post your essay at my blog.

    I feel that it deserves wide recognition.

    Your post speaks to an important part of American history. . . .an American history that should not be forgotten.


  16. Sylvia/M says:

    Of course, Ann. Thank you. :)

  17. Caroline says:

    WOW!!! You should get this sucker out! This post is truly inspiring! SCREW hilary and obama!

  18. Joyce says:

    Thanks for your tribute to the first presidential candidate I ever voted for. Every time I hear people (well, media fools, really) ask whether this country is ready to vote for a person of African descent or a woman, I remember 1972 and Shirley Chisholm’s campaign.
    When I reread her words about Vietnam I am saddened by how little has changed and how relevant they are in every way to our current war.

  19. posted this as a link in my blog at today. great job!

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  21. Sylvia/M says:

    Thank you! :D

  22. Pingback: Shirley Chislom is NOT to be forgotten now or ever. at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  23. Pingback: unbought and unbossed « revolution of the lilies

  24. Ann says:

    Color to a political race is NOT important to me….however, what has upset me is hearing that Hillary is the FIRST woman to run for President and to hear that she is the SECOND to run in the Democratic Race…BULL HOCKEY!!! As Democrats, I would assume they would remember Shirley Chisholm! I was in the 11th grade when she ran for the Office of the Presidency! How quick folks are to forget. She was not just monumental to the African-American Race…but opened the doors for many women in the hopes of political office and other avenues for women to LEAD!!! She was the FIRST African-American woman to be elected to Congress….YOU GO MS CHISHOLM!!! Thank You for opening the doors for women!

    However, Sarah Palin IS the FIRST for the Republican Party…for WOMEN!!!! YEAH!!!!

    But I wish folks would study their history. One statement that Ms. Chisholm had made was that she had more of a problem as a woman than she did as an African-American. It was only 2 years later that I joined the US Navy and being a woman, living in a MAN’S WORLD….it would take nearly my entire career before women were accepted in primarily MEN ROLES in the US NAVY! (i.e., Captain of ships, squadrons, Pilots, WOMEN ONBOARD NAVAL VESSELS!!..I served on three!) And I Thank Ms. Chisholm for OPENING THOSE DOORS!!!

    Teach your children about history…it’s the foundation of this country, it is their right to know and to remember. What lies in our past may be the solution to our future!! Start with your genealogy …. and then place those ancestors in the historial events of the world, not only do you learn of your family, but of the history in which they lived. Alex Haley was my mentor in getting me started and 35 years later, still doing it!

    Thank you for bringing forward this historical fact of Ms. Chisholm!!! Blessings to you and yours!

  25. Ann says:

    I stand corrected on my previous statements…. here is a link about women who have run for the Presidency…..

    See, I’m the type of person, I will look for the answers to my own questions! But, I still SALUTE Ms. Chisholm for opening the doors in our times!!!!

    I have to read this entire link I posted, but I believe Ms. Chisholm is the FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN woman to run for the office!!!

  26. Lorraine says:

    I was a lily white girl in high school when Ms. Chisholm ran for president. I remember how proud I was of her.To not mention her as the first woman or African American to run for the highest office in the land is racist and bigoted.She was an inspiration and truly unbought and unbossed.WE ALL NEED ANOTHER MS. CHISHOLM!!!

  27. nik says:

    Thank you x gazillion : one of the first votes I cast was out of high school in the Michigan primary for SC. . .during the past year, quite often my feeling among all the HEAT was – gee, and I thought it was only Republicans who were a-historical – she really SPOKE and why the hell there aren’t SC T shirts, banners, posters, is beyond me. . . if I have to compete against all the moronic Ronnie Worship, well then, I will reach back and say SHIRLEY – unbought and unbossed – I’m a total heathen but must say, do I hear an AMEN ! ! !

  28. Deborah says:

    In the middle of inauguration excitement yesterday, I found myself quoting Shirley Chisholm. The person I was speaking with had never heard of her (he’s a Gen X), but was interested in her path-blazing intelligence and style. Her words and courage will echo throughout the rest of my life, and continue to inform my actions. Thank you for this post.

  29. IW says:

    I love Shirley Chisholm….to hell with the others. Chisholm FIRST woman and African American to run for democratic presidential election.

  30. Wesley says:

    Unbought and Unbossed is not only Shirley Chisholm’s autobiography, but POV also did a fantastic documentary entitled, of course, Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed. You can get it at Netflix. I just watched it last night, and I still am feeling moved by Ms. Chisholm’s strength, courage, and ability to forgive. There is an especially moving part, when the question of what to do with one of the men in the Black Caucus who has spoken out against her severely. Ms. Chisholm said that tell him that we are still friends and that she didn’t hold anything against him. Then, even more movingly, she added, that she knew this man and he probably wouldn’t know how to come back to her and essentially be friends again.


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