The Courage of Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm speaks at the Democratic National Convention in 1972. Photo by Pictorial Parade/Get

U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 1972. Pictorial Parade/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

I missed filmmaker Shola Lynch's documentary Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed the first time around, but I just caught it on Netflix. Amazing. It's a must-see for any of the current presidential candidates — be they John McCain or Dennis Kucinich — who fancy themselves mavericks. It's a gotta-see for all the liberals who think of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton as being the first "viable" black or female candidate. And for all of us, it solidifies the bromide, "Those who don't learn from the past..."

It is absolutely heartbreaking to see Shirley Chisholm suffer through the same inane questioning of her "blackness" (her mother was from Barbados, her father from Guyana) and to see old-school blacks line up against her because she threatens their power. It's mind-boggling to watch "feminists" of the era abandon her because they feel she can't win.


Is it heartbreaking and mind-boggling in retrospect because you realize that in 35 years things haven't really changed?

And lemme add this:

For all who think that Obama is a good public speaker, and he is, Chisholm is absolutely galvanizing. When she exclaims that she is running for president because she has the "courage, the balls and the audacity" to believe she can win, it is as tough and as inspiring as any words spoken by any present-day politician.

Basically, she possesses that unforgivable blackness that I so admire.

When asked, Chisholm said that she did not want to be remembered as the first black woman elected to Congress. She did not want to be recalled as the first black woman who ran for president. She wanted people to remember her as someone who wanted to change America for the better.

Watch the DVD and take a minute to remember Shirley Chisholm.



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Thanks for remembering her! I worked on her compaign in 1972 and met her briefly but have always admired and respected this powerful, talented woman. We don't look back often enough to reflect on those who laid the carpet of freedom we walk on today.

Sent by Devon, Texas | 12:42 PM | 10-2-2007

Thank you for bringing attention to this DVD. I'm going to order it as soon as I close this note.

Sent by Elaine Reis | 1:19 PM | 10-2-2007

Another thank you. I remember her speaking power and admiring her, but not the details you bring up here. She was a heroic figure and, as is the case with such people, would not have thought of herself that way.

Sent by Dan Hortsch | 12:27 PM | 10-3-2007

Honestly, I've never heard of Shirley Chisolm. She was "before my time." Per Ridley's brief description, sounds as if Chisolm was worth knowing. On the other hand, Barry Bonds and I are in the same generation. I've watched Bonds's career in the media. His HR record needs to have an asterisk. Based on Ridley's brief description of Chisolm, Bonds and Chisolm should not be in the same breath much less the same essay.

Am I missing something? Educate me, please.

Sent by kevinpensoneau | 1:46 PM | 10-3-2007

Ms Chisholm gave the address at my college graduation in 1987 at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She was an amazingly energetic and powerful speaker.

Sent by Angela Percival | 6:44 PM | 10-20-2007

I too saw the film for the first time this year via Netflix. My take was similar to yours: this person had a clarity of thought and courage that were truly admirable. I was impressed with her integrity and her strong ethical core.

Sent by Stephanie Karsten | 5:37 PM | 10-23-2007

Miss Chisolm was one of the finest politicians that America ever produced.

I try not to look back though, because it only makes the brightest lights today seem rather dim.

Sent by crewmantle | 6:49 PM | 10-26-2007

I was a young white kid from the Los Angeles suburbs who voted for Shirley Chisolm in the primaries figuring that I'd probably be voting for McGovern in the fall but that Chisolm deserved some support for her courage to take on the status quo. Now as an eighth-grade english teacher I always show my inner city kids "Unbought and Unbossed" during black history month. Many of my students can hardly believe that such a women at such a time existed.

Sent by Douglas Widmark | 8:11 PM | 10-31-2007

My dream team of leaders for this country was always Shirley Chisolm and Barbara Jordan. What a powerfully eloquent, clear-thinking, intelligent and moving duo of leadership!

Sent by Carolyn Nord | 5:57 PM | 11-2-2007

My mother, a Polish woman born in France, used to stack books by my bead for me to read, in exchange for me being allowed to do things that I wanted to do, but she wasn't too fond of (e.g., teen dances). Shirley Chisholm's book appeared and reappeared until I read it. 35 years later, it's probably time to reread it, and most certainly pass it along.

Sent by Danuta Majchrowicz | 9:36 AM | 12-25-2007