Who Was Shirley Chisholm? Day 4 of Black History Month

UNBOUGHT & UNBOSSED

12 Facts About Shirley Chisholm, The First African-American to Run For President

Being the first black woman to serve on Congress would be a significant enough accomplishment for a lifetime, but it wasn’t good enough for Shirley Chisholm. Three years after she arrived in Washington, D.C., Chisholm became the first woman to run for president for the Democratic party. When announcing her intention to seek the nomination in 1972, she stated, “I’m a revolutionary at heart now and I’ve got to run, even though it might be the downfall of my career.” Though her campaign was controversial at times, it wasn’t the downfall of her long and noteworthy career. Here are a few things to know about this bold educator-turned-politician.

1. SHE HAD INTERNATIONAL ROOTS

On November 30, 1924, Shirley Anita St. Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York to Ruby Seale and Charles St. Hill. Her mother was a domestic worker who immigrated to the U.S. from Barbados; her father, a factory worker, was originally from Guyana.Being the first black woman to serve on Congress would be a significant enough accomplishment for a lifetime, but it wasn’t good enough for Shirley Chisholm. Three years after she arrived in Washington, D.C., Chisholm became the first woman to run for president for the Democratic party. When announcing her intention to seek the nomination in 1972, she stated, “I’m a revolutionary at heart now and I’ve got to run, even though it might be the downfall of my career.” Though her campaign was controversial at times, it wasn’t the downfall of her long and noteworthy career. Here are a few things to know about this bold educator-turned-politician.

2. SHE WAS BORN IN BROOKLYN, BUT SHE DIDN’T HAVE A NEW YORK ACCENT.

In 1928, Chisholm and her two sisters were sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados, while her parents stayed in New York and worked through the Great Depression. Chisholm attended a one-room schoolhouse on this island in the West Indies. In addition to receiving a British education, she picked up an accent, which remained slight but noticeable throughout her life.

3. EDUCATION HAD A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON HER LIFE …

Chisholm returned to the U.S. in March 1934 at age 9 and resumed with a public-school education. Following high school, she studied sociology at Brooklyn College and earned her BA in 1946. (She was a prize-winning debater in college, a skill that would serve her well throughout her political career.) She continued her education at Columbia University and earned an MA in early childhood education in 1952. While she was still a student at Columbia, she began teaching at a nursery school and married Conrad Chisholm in 1949. They would later divorce in 1977.

4. … SO MUCH SO THAT SHE BEGAN HER PROFESSIONAL CAREER IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION.

Library of Congress

After working at the nursery school, Chisholm worked her way through the teaching ranks and by 1953 was the director of two day care centers, a position she held until 1959. Her expertise and experience led to her role as an educational consultant for New York City’s Division of Day Care from 1959 through 1964.

5. HER POLITICAL CAREER—WHICH STARTED AT THE NEW YORK STATE LEGISLATURE—WAS REVOLUTIONARY FROM THE BEGINNING.

Chisholm was a member of the League of Women Voters and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League before she ran for the New York State Assembly in 1964. When she won, Chisholm became the second African-American woman to serve on the state legislature. From 1965 to 1968, Chisholm served as a Democratic member and focused on unemployment benefits for domestic workers and education initiatives.

6. REDISTRICTING INSPIRED HER RUN FOR CONGRESS.

Chisholm set her sights on Congress when redistricting efforts gave Brooklyn a new congressional district. Not one to shy away from the public, Chisholm used to drive through neighborhoods while announcing, “This is fighting Shirley Chisholm coming through.” She defeated three candidates in the primary election, including a state senator, before defeating well-known civil rights activist James Farmer in the general election. This victory made her the first African-American woman elected to Congress, and she would go on to serve seven terms.

Political buttons from the collection of Alix Kates Shulman. Image credit: Polly Shulman.”

 7. SHE HAD A WAY WITH WORDS AND ESTABLISHED HERSELF AS OUTSPOKEN AND READY FOR CHANGE EARLY IN HER FIRST TERM.

She was known for her bold declarations. After her upset victory in the congressional election, she boasted, “Just wait, there may be some fireworks.” And she delivered on that promise. Given her campaign slogan “Unbought and unbossed,” it should come as no surprise that Chisholm quickly made her presence known in Congress. She spoke out against the Vietnam War within the first few months of her arrival and said she would vote against military spending. When she was initially relegated to the House Agricultural Committee, she requested a new assignment, claiming that she didn’t think she could best serve her Brooklyn constituents from that position.

 

After directly addressing House Speaker John McCormack on the matter, she was reassigned to Veterans’ Affairs, and then moved to the Education and Labor Committee in 1971. True to her desire to bring about change, Chisholm hired all women for her office, half of whom were African-American. She was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Chisholm with Rosa Parks (L) between 1960 and 1970. Image Credit: Library of Congress

8. HER PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN WAS UNEXPECTED AND HISTORIC.

Chisholm formally announced her intention to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in January 1972, making her the first African-American to run for a major party and the first woman to vie for the Democratic nomination. During her speech, which she delivered in her hometown of Brooklyn, Chisholm said, “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 am equally proud of that…I am the candidate of the people of America, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.”

Although her campaign wasn’t as well-funded as her competitors’, Chisholm did get her name on the primary ballot in 12 states and won 28 delegates in primary elections. She received about 152 delegates at the Democratic National Convention, coming in fourth place for the party.

9. THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL WAS FULL OF CHALLENGES.

Chisholm likely expected challenges during her campaign, and she certainly encountered a fair amount. She received multiple threats against her life, including assassination attempts, and was granted Secret Service protection to ensure her safety. Chisholm also had to sue to be included in televised debates.

There was even controversy where there could have been encouragement. Her decision to run for the Democratic nomination caught many members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) off-guard, and they weren’t happy that she acted before a formal and unified decision could be made. But Chisholm was done with waiting; when the subject of the CBC came up on the night she announced her campaign, she told the crowd, “While they’re rapping and snapping, I’m mapping.”

10. SHE HAD AN UNLIKELY SUPPORTER IN GEORGE WALLACE.

Chisholm was well aware that her biggest source of support came from women and minorities and often advocated on their behalf, so it shocked many of her supporters and constituents when she visited political rival George Wallace after an assassination attempt sent him to the hospital—and ultimately left him paralyzed—in 1972. Wallace, who was governor of Alabama, was known for his racist comments and segregationist views, but Chisholm checked on him. She said she never wanted what happened to him to happen to anybody else.

Ultimately, their friendship benefited the public when Wallace came through for Chisholm on an important piece of legislation in 1974. She was working on a bill that would give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage. Wallace convinced enough of his fellow Southern congressmen to vote in favor of the bill, moving it through the House.

11. FOLLOWING RETIREMENT, CHISHOLM DIDN’T SLOW DOWN.

Chisholm retired from Congress in 1982, but leaving the political arena didn’t mean she was done making a difference. Although she planned on spending more time with her second husband, Arthur Hardwick Jr., she also returned to teaching at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and continued to speak at colleges across the country.

Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005 at age 80 in Ormond Beach, Florida. She is buried in Buffalo, New York, and the inscription on the mausoleum vault in which she is buried reads “Unbought and Unbossed.”

12. SHE CONTINUES TO GARNER ACCOLADES FOR HER TRAILBLAZING WORK.

Chisholm was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. In 2014, the U.S. Postal Service debuted the Shirley Chisholm Forever Stamp as part of the Black Heritage Series. A year later, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and there is talk of a movie being made about her life. But Chisholm never doubted what legacy she wanted to leave behind, once saying, “I want history to remember me…not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America.”

 

ARTICLE RETRIEVED FROM: m.mentalfloss.com/article

Who Was Bridgett “Biddy” Mason? – Day 1 of Black History Month 

​From Slave To Freedom

Bridget “Biddy” Mason, born a slave in Mississippi in 1818, achieved financial success that enabled her to support her extended family for generations despite the fact that she was illiterate. In a landmark case she sued her master for their freedom, saved her earnings, invested in real estate, and became a well-known philanthropist in Los Angeles, California. 

Although born in Mississippi, Mason was owned by slaveholders in Georgia and South Carolina before she was returned to Mississippi.  Her last owner, Robert Marion Smith, a Mississippi Mormon convert, followed the call of church leaders to settle in the West.  Mason and her children joined other slaves on Smith’s religious pilgrimage to establish a new Mormon community in what would become Salt Lake City, Utah.  At the time Utah was still part of Mexico

In 1848 30-year-old Mason walked 1,700 miles behind a 300-wagon caravan that eventually arrived in the Holladay-Cottonwood area of the Salt Lake Valley. Along the route west Mason’s responsibilities included setting up and breaking camp, cooking the meals, herding the cattle, and serving as a midwife as well as taking care of her three young daughters aged ten, four, and an infant.

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In 1851 Smith and his family and slaves set out in a 150-wagon caravan for San Bernardino, California to establish yet another Mormon community. Ignoring Brigham Young’s warning that slavery was illegal in California, Smith brought Mason and other enslaved people to the new community.  Along the trek Mason met Charles H. and Elizabeth Flake Rowan, free blacks, who urged her to legally contest her slave status once she reached California, a free state.  Mason received additional encouragement by free black friends whom she met in California, Robert and Minnie Owens.

In December 1855 Robert Smith, fearing losing his slaves, decided to move with them to Texas, a slave state. The Owens family had a vested interest in the Mason family as one of their sons was romantically involved with Mason’s 17-year-old daughter.  When Robert Owens told the Los Angeles County Sheriff that slaves were being illegally held, he gathered a posse which including Owens and his sons, other cowboys and vaqueros from the Owens ranch.  The posse apprehended Smith’s wagon train in Cajon Pass, California en route to Texas and prevented him from leaving the state.

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After spending five years enslaved in a “free” state Bridget Mason challenged Robert Smith for her freedom.  On January 19, 1856 she petitioned the court for freedom for herself and her extended family of 13 women and children. Los Angeles District Judge Benjamin Hayes took three days before handing down his ruling in favor Mason and her extended family, citing California’s 1850 constitution which prohibited slavery. 

Mason and her family moved to Los Angeles where her daughter married the son of Robert and Minnie Owens.  Mason worked as midwife and nurse, saved her money and purchased land in the heart of what is now downtown Los Angeles. Mason also organized First A.M.E. Church, the oldest African American church in the city.  She educated her children and with her wealth became a philanthropist to the entire Los Angeles community.  Bridget “Biddy” Mason died in Los Angeles in 1891.

Sources:
Tricia Martineau Wagner, African American Women of the Old West (Guilford, Connecticut: TwoDot, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2007); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier African Americans in the American West 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998; Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1995); Jessie Carney Smith, (editor). Epic Lives One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993).

Contributor:

Independent Historian

– See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/mason-bridget-biddy-1818-1891#sthash.y9e7L7e2.dpuf