Kamala Harris was announced as Joe Biden’s VP pick on Tuesday, prompting a slew of “first” articles and posts on social media. When Hillary Clinton ran for the White House in 2008, there was much discussion about her being the first. Not enough attention or honor has gone to Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate– of any gender– for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Before “diversity and inclusion” were en vogue, Shirley Chisholm was taking on the machine, “unbought and unbossed.”
“Unbought and unbossed” was Chisholm’s campaign slogan during her 1972 run for the White House. Chisholm was a strong, Black woman of principle and that made her a lot of enemies. During her career she received death threats, insults and very little support from the establishment– even Black male political leaders. Her run for the White House was largely financed on her credit card, in fact. Even so, she managed to pick up 152 delegates, in major states like Ohio and New Jersey. Chisholm knew that she had no shot of winning the race in 1972 but ran “in spite of hopeless odds … to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.” In today’s political atmosphere, where the status quo reigns, Shirley Chisholm is a moral guide.
Chisholm battled intense racism and sexism throughout her career. When she was first elected to Congress, she was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, despite representing a very urban district in Brooklyn. It was a clear slap in the face and attempt to silence her voice. Chisholm, however, used her placement on the committee to direct surplus food to the poor. She expanded the food stamps program and played a critical role in the creation of the WIC program. Chisholm was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Despite her growing influence, Chisholm’s focused was the marginalized and poor, not amassing more power.
Shirley Chisholm served in Congress before either party was interested in promoting diversity or even cared to give lip service to the idea. The establishment never accepted her and it certainly couldn’t buy her off, if it cared to do so. Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton, Cori Bush and a host of others stand on her shoulders, whether or not they care to say her name.