The First Black Woman To Run For President The congresswoman from New York launched a spirited campaign in 1972 for the Democratic nomination. Chisholm said she ran for the office, despite the hopeless odds, to challenge the status quo.
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The First Black Woman To Run For President

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The First Black Woman To Run For President

The First Black Woman To Run For President

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. We're going to wrap up our series now called, Contenders. All week, we've been hearing about historic presidential candidates, candidates who broke new ground but did not win the race. Today, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. She sought the Democratic nomination in 1972. She was the first African-American woman to run for president. Our story comes from Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries.

Representative BARBARA LEE (Democrat, California): My name is Barbara Lee. In 1972, I was a student on public assistance, single mom. When I first met Shirley Chisholm - I now am a member of Congress serving on the Appropriations Committee. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm told me, no matter what I did in life, use your power judiciously, use it with humility but use it.

(Soundbite of applause)

Representative SHIRLEY CHISHOLM (First African-American to run for President): I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States of America.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man: Direct from our newsroom in New York, this is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Mr. WALTER CRONKITE (Anchor, CBS News): And who have to rather (unintelligible) was tossed into the Democratic presidential race today, got a Mrs. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress.

Mr. ROBERT GOTTLIEB (Worked for Chisholm's 1972 Campaign): My name is Robert Gottlieb. In 1972, I was on the campaign of Shirley Chisholm. The people running were Richard Nixon on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, there was George McGovern, John Lindsey, Senator Scoop Jackson, Governor George Wallace and then you have Shirley Chisholm and it was like she came from Mars.

Representative CHISHOLM: I am not the candidate of black America although I am black and proud. I'm not the candidate of the Women's Movement of this country although I am a woman and I'm 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.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: She looked different. She sounded different. She had a lisp plus she had an accent. She was from the Caribbean. She sounded funny but all of that became totally secondary once you heard what she had to say.

Representative CHISHOLM: I'm finding all over America that people are sick and tired of the tweedle-dee dees and the tweedle-dee dums, who constantly flip flap from one side to another.

(Soundbite of people cheering)

Representative CHISHOLM: People are interested in having candidates that are truthful. Candidates that have, if you will or just a tiny bit of morality and a tiny bit of integrity and people that they believe they can go to sleep at night and know that they're not selling them out or selling out the communities in which they live.

Representative LEE: She was against the Vietnam War. She talked about the elimination of poverty and why we needed to put resources into public education.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man #1: The black vote will play a large part in the Democratic Presidential Primary in California next Tuesday. The two men, plus a third candidate, Representative Shirley Chisholm are going after those black votes.

Representative CHISHOLM: Vote for Shirley Chisholm.

Unidentified Man #2: All right.

Representative CHISHOLM: Give me a vote because I need strength. If I have the strength, we can get the input at that...

Representative LEE: She knew that, you know, she was not going to pull the traditional voters. But she also knew there were so many people unregistered and out there just waiting to participate and waiting to vote.

Representative CHISHOLM: So ladies and gentlemen, I conclude by saying, if you can't support me or you can't endorse me, get out of my way. You do your thing and let me do mine.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Mr. GOTTLIEB: The thing about Shirley Chisholm, she wasn't just a radical politician mouthing off, she understood how politics worked and how to get her positions heard by a wider audience.

(Soundbite of ABC News)

Unidentified Man: ABC News originally had invited Senator McGovern and Senator Humphrey, the two leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination to appear on this program. Friday night, the Federal Appeals Court ruled that Mrs. Chisholm must also be invited to participate.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: She could make a million speeches while all these white guys are running for president. Nobody was going to listen to her. Nobody was going to cover it unless she was a candidate for president, unless in one of the debates she could force her way onto the stage.

(Soundbite of discussion)

Unidentified Man: If your own candidacy for the top spot should fail, are you now saying that you think you could serve as the vice president of the United States?

Representative CHISHOLM: I could serve as president of this country, believe it or not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1: I've raised my question...

Unidentified Man #2: That's what you're accounted for...

Unidentified Man #1: Let me go back and try...

Representative CHISHOLM: That's why I'm running.

Unidentified Man #1: Let me go back and try it again.

(Soundbite of marching band)

Unidentified Man: Will the convention of the Democratic Party please come to order.

Representative LEE: I was a Shirley Chisholm delegate on welfare, first time voting, you know, now a delegate at a convention. I mean, that was unheard of.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man: There are those in this hall who feel the Democratic Party has for much too long been in the control of middle-aged squares. Others who feel the party is being turned over to the hippies. Four years ago, there were people out in the streets in Chicago protesting what was happening inside the hall demanding some of the power. This time, four years later, they are inside and they have some of the power. Well that's the kind of convention we're about to have and we'll see what happens.

(Soundbite of convention)

Unidentified Man: Validate will continue until a nominee is selected. The clerk will call the roll.

Unidentified Woman: Illinois, New York...

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Once it became clear she was not going to get over the top in the number of delegates, we hoped we were going to be able to go in the back room and trade off our delegates for certain promises to effect what the Democratic Party would stand for, and I guess the disappointment that we all had was by the time we reached the convention, we just didn't have enough power.

(Soundbite of convention)

Representative RON DELLUMS (Liberal, California): Now we see the beginnings of a very powerful movement in this country. A movement that is only realized as potential power.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: Congressman, Ron Dellums from California was somebody who she was very close with. He was going to nominate Shirley Chisholm on the floor of the convention. But he made a determination that he could only go so far as a matter of principle with Shirley Chisholm. And he backed out.

Representative DELLUMS: I therefore - am now endorsing the candidacy of Senator George McGovern.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: It really broke Shirley Chisholm's heart that people who supported her positions ultimately decided, you know what? I love you, Shirley but I'm going to go and support George McGovern because that's reality.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man: Senator George A. McGovern having received a majority vote at this convention certified delegates...

Representative LEE: Shirley was a very practical politician and she knew what had to be done, had to be done and you know, she would say, but we've got to keep going. We've got to keep working. We've got to fight. Nothing is easy.

Mr. GOTTLIEB: I think every politician always has a dream that they could win, but there was no way Shirley Chisholm ever thought she would actually win the nomination or be president of the United States. But by the end of the campaign, people were no longer saying that she had no right to run.

Representative CHISHOLM: I stand before you today to repudiate the ridiculous notion that the American people will not vote for qualified candidate simply because he is not white or because she is not a male. I do not believe that in 1972, the great majority of Americans harbor such narrow and petty prejudices. All of you who share this vision from New York to California, from Wisconsin to Florida, our brothers and sisters on the road to national unity and a new kind of America.

NORRIS: Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. That story and the rest of our series called Contenders were produced by Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries, with help from Ben Shapiro and Deborah George. Special thanks to Shola Lynch who produced the film, Chisholm 72: Unbought & Unbossed.

BLOCK: And you can hear all the stories in our Contenders series, as well as speeches and campaign songs, at

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