Freedom’s Sisters: Shirley Chisholm

What’s not to love?  I remember my mom talking about her with respect and reverence, and defending her (in her own quiet, diplomatic way) from any criticisms.  I kind of identified with Shirley Chisolm because she went through the British school system when she was young, as I did.  OK, her education was in Barbados and mine was in South Africa and Scotland, but still.  And she wrote books, UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED and THE GOOD FIGHT, something I hoped I would do, too.

She was the first African American woman to be a Congressperson (1968) and the first African American woman to run for President of the United States (1972) — a woman? a black woman in 1972?  That’s chutzpah!  I love it!  She was an impressive woman, so impressive, that I just have to mention her in my current novel.  Why?  Here are some clues from her own voice:

“I was the first American citizen to be elected to Congress in spite of the double drawbacks of being female and having skin darkened by melanin. When you put it that way, it sounds like a foolish reason for fame. In a just and free society it would be foolish. That I am a national figure because I was the first person in 192 years to be at once a congressman, black and a woman proves, I think, that our society is not yet either just or free.”

“We Americans have a chance to become someday a nation in which all racial stocks and classes can exist in their own selfhoods, but meet on a basis of respect and equality and live together, socially, economically, and politically.”

“In the end antiblack, antifemale, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing – antihumanism.”

And this quote is specifically for you, President Obama:  :o)

“The United States was said not to be ready to elect a Catholic to the Presidency when Al Smith ran in the 1920’s. But Smith’s nomination may have helped pave the way for the successful campaign John F. Kennedy waged in 1960. Who can tell? What I hope most is that now there will be others who will feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking white male.”

Thank you, Shirley.

To learn more about Shirley Chisholm, you can go to the National Women’s Hall of Fame or your library — there’s a lot out there about her, although nothing too recent.  Hmmm, sounds like a book that needs to be written.  In the meantime, you might enjoy listening to some inspiring speeches by Shirley and others, including Michelle Obama, married to an equally inspirational guy in the White House:

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