Yet in the face of that harsh reality, she remained fearless and took it even further by daring to run for President of the United States of America, only the second woman to do so. George Edwin Taylor became the first black person to run for U.S. president on the National Liberty Party, a black ticket, in 1904. Although she admitted throughout her campaign that she did not believe she would win, she knew that her courage was important for those who followed behind her. Interestingly, two well-known names, Al Sharpton and Donna Brazile, worked on her presidential bid and she, herself, supported Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential bids.
Announcing her candidacy on January 25, 1972, she was very clear about where she stood. “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’m equally proud of that,” she told those gathered around her. “I am the candidate of the people of America,” she proclaimed to all.
And she was encouraged by the American people’s response. She told an ABC reporter that, “It is a wonderful thing to know that in spite of the many obstacles in my path that there is such a large cross section of America who is behind me and saying, why not? Why not dare to dream like so many others have dreamt before me?”
Her visit to well-known segregationist George Wallace in the hospital after an assassination attempt in 1972 did not go over well with many of her black supporters. But true to her reputation for keeping her eyes on what is best for the people, Wallace became a critical supporter of her efforts to successfully pass a bill in Congress in 1974 to grant minimum wage to domestic workers.
Ironically ,she has been referenced more than a few times by rappers. “Make you co-op-er-ate with the rhythm, that is what I give ‘em/Reagan is the pres but I voted for Shirley Chisholm,” rhymed Biz Markie in his 1988 classic “Nobody Beats the Biz.” Yet, sadly, Chisholm, who passed away on January 1, 2005, keeps getting forgotten by her peers and her beneficiaries.
“I did not ask anyone for permission to run for president,” she told students at Edward Waters College in 1998. And no one should have to ask for permission to honor her now. The fact that she is still overlooked makes her words of long ago stingingly true. “That I am a national figure because I was the first person in the 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.”
Follow Ronda Racha Penrice on Twitter at @rondaracha