Shirley Chisholm, we need you now more than ever.
Forty-five years ago this month, an African-American woman from Brooklyn announced that she was running for President of the United States.
I have this faint memory of seeing Shirley Chisholm on the old Eyewitness News show calling upon her fellow Americans to join her in “an effort to reshape our society and regain control of our destiny as we go down the Chisholm Trail for 1972.”
Obviously she didn’t have a prayer of winning, but the fact that a minority woman had stepped forward and declared her candidacy for the highest office in the land was an incredible moment in this country’s history.
I had the distinct privileged of interviewing Shirley Chisholm sometime around 1990 when I was a reporter at the Pocono Record.
She was staying at one of the area resorts and I was lucky enough to be sent down there to speak with her. I’m from Brooklyn and I had grown up watching her on TV, so it was a thrill to meet her.
I reminded her of her presidential announcement and that line about going down the Chisholm Trail.
“You remember that?” She laughed. “You must’ve been so young.”
Yes, I was, but I never forgot that moment. This was a time when presidential candidates were Caucasian males and Caucasian males only. But Ms. Chisholm said she ran for the office "in spite of hopeless odds ... to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the
The Seventies was such a volatile time in America—the Vietnam War was raging on, there were riots on college campuses all over the country, and Richard Nixon was busy spying on his political enemies.
And Shirley Chisholm was in the middle of it all. I reminded her of a raucous Democratic State Committee meeting in the Catskills in 1970 when Ms. Chisholm demanded that the ticket have a black candidate.
“Get off the stage!” someone shouted.
“You come down and get me off!” Ms. Chisholm responded.
I told her that I had also seen this confrontation on TV, and I mentioned that no one had taken her up on her offer.
I was so happy to speak with her. She was strong, determined, and decent. Her early campaign slogan—and also the title of her autobiography--was “Unbought and Unbossed,” and that’s just what this country needs—back then and especially now.
“I have a firm belief in myself and unshakeable faith in God,” she told me.
She radiated this incredible energy and she bemoaned the apathy that gripped America at the time.
I can only imagine what she’d think about the current political situation where the president is a racist reality show star determined the undo the Constitution. I wonder what she would have to say about “alternative facts.”
Shirley Chisholm retired to Florida in 1991 and she died January 1, 2005. I’m so grateful I had a chance to meet her and I just wish we had more people like her who demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.