Kamala Harris isn’t the 1st Black woman to run for VP, have you heard of Charlotta Bass?
Dear Culture's Gerren Keith Gaynor and Mariel Turner are unpacking Black political history in the podcast's latest episode
From musician SPICE endorsing the youngest member of Jamaica’s parliament Lisa Hanna to Kamala Harris’s vice presidential nomination, history has been in the making for Black women recently.
In a time of #BlackLivesMatter, the voices and concerns of Black people–and Black femmes especially–are gaining headway in our nation’s larger discourses with plenty of progress and pushback. So, Dear Culture hosts Gerren Keith Gaynor and Mariel Turner have slowed down the pace, unpacking some of these issues on the latest episode of the podcast.
They ask the historically apt and critical question, “Dear Culture, do we truly know the history of Black presidential politics?”
Before Harris made her mark, there was Shirley Chisholm who was striving to break multiple glass ceilings in the mid-20th century. In 1968, Chisholm became the first back woman elected to the United States Congress representing New York’s 12th congressional district for seven terms until 1983.
“The first time in the history of this nation, a person of color and a woman is running for the highest office of this land,” Shirley Chisholm said about her historic run for president in the 1970s. “In spite of the many obstacles, there is such a large cross section who is behind, that is saying, ‘Why not dare to dream’?”
Though Chisholm has been referenced more for her amazing feat and contribution to American history, she isn’t regularly given her flowers, according to our Dear Culture hosts. From a gendered and color-hierarchy perspective, Gaynor notes that, “we think about the history of Black politics through the framework of Barack Obama,” when actually Black history is unbound with Black femmes often setting the groundwork for generations to come.
“How much courage [Chisholm must have had] to announce as a Black woman that you will run for U.S. president amidst the civil rights movement,” Turner adds.
Dear Culture also unpacks the legacy of Black Republican leader Herman Cain, who recently died from COVID-19 complications, and his presidential candidacy in 2012. A business executive, writer, Tea Party activist and Morehouse alumni, Cain’s political legacy is often shadowed by his support of Trump.
However, as the Dear Culture podcast explains, it’s in part due to the rap sheets of our current political party system and the historical cut-back in social wealth programs for marginalized peoples. Though Cain is said to be in the “wrong side of history” by many Black Americans, his presidential campaign did make history, even if it’s on the Republican side.
Continuing with Black Republican history, Dear Culture touches on the life of Charlotta Bass, the first Black femme to be nominated as vice president in 1952 as a progressive. The changemaker began her political career as a conservative Republican as politics was disbanding and reforming during that time. Bass abandoned the Democratic party because of its failure to address the concerns of Black peoples and women. Though her legacy is rarely mentioned, Harris’ nomination opened the floodgates to search for the Black women who came before. Turner reminds us of that we “need to acknowledge the courage it takes” to do and say what Bass was doing in the mi- 20th century.
“It’s obvious that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to educating ourselves and young people [regarding] the strides Black people have made. It goes so much deeper than Kamala Harris, it goes so much deeper than Barack Obama,” Gaynor explains.
Jesse Jackson and his 1984 Democratic presidential run is one of the more well-known occurrences in Black political history. Winning five primaries and caucuses, with more than 18% of votes cast, Jackson was highly successful until alleged anti-semitic comments cost him votes and subsequently the campaign. Loyal to the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakan, Jackson’s language caused controversy. However, he remains influential in Black American politics as an activist, representing the “old guard” figure in the Black community.
“All these strong Black men and women have helped shape and mold our government, society, and political identity in this nation,” Gaynor says.
Talk of Black political history in America requires mention of the first Black president, Barack Obama. Becoming the 44th President of the United States in 2008, Obama’s impact and legacy in the Black community continues to be a sweet memory to both old and young alike.
Many people can remember with crisp detail where they were when Obama was elected, as both hosts note in the podcast. Though Obama’s election did not single-handedly change America’s racial landscape as many hoped, it was still a powerful moment, touching many hearts in America.
Sundus Hassan is a creative writer and digital storyteller. She’s a recent graduate from Vassar College with degrees in Africana Studies, Comparative Politics, and Literary Theory. She is deeply driven by the art of truth-telling and poetry. Currently based in Brooklyn, New York.
Have you subscribed to theGrio’s new podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!