The television drama Mad Men is starting to talk about race in its 5th season. Some bloggers have even speculated that Shirley Chisholm should be introduced as a character on the show.This season Mad Men added the first African American secretary to the Sterling, Cooper, Draper Price office, and in the most recent episode, the show also mentions racial violence and urban insurrections around the country.
Gothamist dug up the reference to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Chisholm’s neighborhood of birth and later her Congressional District:
In last night’s Mad Men Don’s new secretary Dawn attempts to sleep in the office after it gets too late. She explains to Peggy her family doesn’t want her taking the subway at night, and that cabs won’t go north of 96th Street. When Peggy asks if there had been another riot, Dawn says no, but there was “a thing in Bedford-Stuyvesant.” We got in touch with the New York Public Library, where showrunner Matthew Weiner even turns to for his research, to find out if they had more information on what this “thing” was.
On July 9th, 1966, the NY Times ran an article with the headline: “400 YOUTHS JOIN BROOKLYN BRAWL: Police Break Up Fighting in Bedford-Stuyvesant.”
Bed-Stuy was in the news in 1966 when the episode takes place: Robert Kennedy paid a visit to the Brooklyn neighborhood to address racial tensions and frustrations in the community regarding schools, and the police force. Chisholm, relatively unknown at the time, was representing that district in the New York State Assembly. A 1965 lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act alleged racial gerrymandering because the neighborhood part of five congressional districts, each with a white representative. In 1968 Chisholm was launched into national politics when she was elected to the newly created 12th Congressional District which was born out of the lawsuit, making her the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress.