In 1968 our country was adjusting to losing a great man, leader and the voice that was Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To many his passing had symbolized the end of the civil rights movement. What more could blacks want? We had successfully fought and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which opened once closed and forbidden doors for people of color to have equal access to public accommodations. We were given our right to vote with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and 10 years prior Brown v. Board of Education desegregated our schools. So what else could we possible need? Simple…a strong, independent woman willing to continue to fight for the rights Dr. King fought for up to the day of his untimely passing. That woman was Shirley Chisholm.
In 1969 Shirley Chisholm was sworn in as the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress a position she served for 7 terms until 1982. Congresswoman Chisholm was also a founding member of National Women’s Political Caucus. Lest not forget Congresswoman Chisholm was also the first woman and African American to seek the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 1972. Congresswoman Chisholm’s accommplishments are to be commended but they are not the reason why she inspires me (I googled all these wonderful facts for your reading pleasure). Her downright audacity to look society in the face and step out on faith to right a wrong is.
At a time when many felt life would convert back to 20 years prior she demanded that they continue to push forward. When racism was not a filthy word but taught to generations of children as acceptable behavior toward a race of people based on their god given color, she stepped out on faith and sought nomination to be President. When it would have been easier to let someone else step up, she stepped in, on and over to ensure the word equal was understood in it’s truest form. Congressman Chisholm said “I ran for the presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.”
Although times have changed and arguably some of the situations remain the same, if the Congresswoman has taught us anything it is to fight even when others tell you there is no chance of winning. As women embarking on what seems like an uphill battle rippled with feelings of concern about how our candidacy will effect our spouses, children, family and community imagine what impact they will endure if you do not run. As Eleanor Roosevelt told a 14 year old Shirley Chisholm, “don’t let anyone stand in your way.”
Class of 2012