Remembering Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president of the United States, one who was “unbought” and “unbossed,” and believed she belonged at the table.
Shirley Anita Saint Hill was born to immigrants from Barbados. Shirley Chisholm (her married name) was an educator and advocate for children and the poor. Eventually she entered the arena of politics and became the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968 and represented the 12th District of New York until 1983. In 1972, she became the first Black woman to run for President of the U.S.
Throughout her political career, Chisholm saw herself as “the people’s politician.” She was determined to be Unbought and Unbossed (the title of her autobiography) and that was one of the reasons much of the Democratic power structure tried to deny her a seat at the table during her presidential run. Other reasons, of course, were that most didn’t believe an African American or a woman could become president—let alone someone who was both!
Whether running for office or pushing legislation, Chisholm often had to work outside the party apparatus and gather support as she blazed her way along the “Chisholm Trail.” She was as quick to challenge Democrats as well as Republicans when it came to representing the have-nots. As you’ll see below, she also didn’t shy away from challenging the church to see people as “integrated wholes” and to act upon that belief. The following excerpts from “The Relationship Between Religion and Today’s Social Issues”[i] provide a glimpse into her heart:
- “It is exceedingly difficult to explain one’s inner feelings and motivations especially when it seems that one’s actions defy current policy and standards… Philosophically I remain involved because it is the only way in which I can express my love toward a different America, an America that does not yet exist in time and space…
- “In 1st John 3:18 we find the following word: ‘My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth’
- “Quite often the church gives the distinct impression that it is concerned exclusively with its own self-preservation, but the clergy must assume a strong role in preparing young men and women to function meaningfully as religiously oriented citizens who are able to cope with the economic, social, religious and political problems of the day. The church can no longer be mute and expect the young to be satisfied. The Bible touches upon every phase of life and our lives are supposed to be integrated wholes, for unless religion is all of life, it is none of life. The rights and wrongs of political issues cannot be sidestepped…
- “There are those who claim that the gospel is opposed to the changing of priorities I have described and they stress the inner, individualistic, formalistic aspects of religion and obedience to authority and tradition. But I believe that we must reconcile those who are oppressed, alienated, rebellious not by conditional handouts which perpetuate servile dependency but by giving to them access to the reins of decision making and to the resources needed for growth in freedom and maturity…
- “Remember that biblical faith is oriented towards a new future not a static past. When Israel’s faith faltered, Christ came to free a new community to carry on God’s work in history…
- “Are we ready to learn to deal with others as God has dealt with us? God gave us life at the risk of our rebellion and paid for reconciliation at the price of the cross.”
As the preachers used to say, “The doors of the church are open.”
[i] Quoted from Religious Education LXIX/2 (March-April 1975): 117-123, by Marcia Y. Riggs (editor) in Can I Get a Witness? Prophetic Religious Voices of African American Women, 183-7.
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