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Political Conventions Prompt Recollections Of A True Progressive

50 Years Before Americans "Feel the Bern," Chisholm Turned Up The Heat

At the Democrat Convention this summer there was a lot of discussion about the progressive cause in America. I want to remember a woman who was a progressive activist in the 1970’s.

In 2008 Gary Clack of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote, “Shirley Chisholm broke ground before Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton” (and, I would add, Bernie).

Born in 1924, Shirley Chisholm was an African-American politician, educator and author.

In 1965 she ran for the New York State Assembly with the slogan ‘Unbought and Unbossed.” She served there from 1965 to 1968.

In 1969 she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first African-American woman elected to Congress. She served until 1983.

On January 25th, 1972, she announced her presidential bid, calling for a bloodless revolution in the forthcoming Democrat National Convention. She became the first African-American major-party candidate to run for President of the United States, and also the first woman to run for the Democrat Party presidential nomination.

She said, “In my political career, and my run for the Presidency, I faced more discrimination as a woman than for being black.”

She lost to George McGovern, but she had broken new ground.

During her years in the New York State Assembly, she worked to improve the lives of inner city people. In Congress she worked to create programs to feed at-risk families including the “Women, Infants and Children” program. She was a tireless advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment. She opposed the draft, supported increased spending for education, healthcare, and other social services, but for a reduction in military spending. She was opposed to the Vietnam War and to the expansion of weapon development.

After leaving Congress in 1983 she taught and lectured in many colleges. She visited local minority groups and urged them to become a strong force at a local level. In 1984 and 1988 she campaigned for Jesse Jackson.

She retired to Florida in 1993.

When I watched the documentary film, Shirley Chisholm for President and saw her, an African-American woman, stand up for her beliefs against immeasurable odds, I felt admiration and respect for her courage and integrity. She inspired me and gave me hope in a way that modern political leaders do not. She may have died in 2005 but her example still lives on.

She told her students, If you don’t accept people who are different, it means nothing that you’ve studied Calculus.

Antonia Matthew

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