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BLACK HISTORY MONTH PREVIEW: UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED

Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman in Congress and the first to seek the nomination for President from a major political party. A champion of equality and enfranchisement for all, the Brooklyn-born politician, teacher and activist served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Her motto (which also served as the title of her autobiography) was “Unbought and Unbossed,” and she lived up to it.

After serving in the New York legislature, Chisholm won a seat as a U.S. Representative in 1968. During her tenure she introduced some 50 pieces of legislation and was a tireless advocate against racism and sexism, the Vietnam war and economic inequality. She co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and was the first black woman (and only the second woman) to serve on the House Rules Committee.

Though her run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1972 was way ahead of the curve, she refocused the progressive movement in terms of what was possible. These were her words as she announced her candidacy:

I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. 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. I am the candidate of the people, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.

Without major donors and marginalized by a racist political system, she nonetheless earned 152 delegates. More importantly, she opened the door for a subsequent generation of politicians who didn’t look anything like the ’70s establishment.

Chisholm retired in 1983 and taught at Mount Holyoke College; she died in 2005 at age 81. Her legend has grown in recent years, and Viola Davis is reportedly developing a film about her; Chisholm is also said to be a character in the forthcoming TV series Mrs. America.

Although she never became a Chief Executive—and she would have been one of the greats—Shirley Chisholm did indeed, as promised, help usher in a “new era.”

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