Dr. Zinga Fraser, Director of the Chisholm Project was featured in the article “2019 Belongs to Shirley Chisholm” which was published this weekend in The New York Times Sunday Review:

“A number of scholars have been doing a lot of work to expand the discourse on Shirley Chisholm for about six years knowing that there would be the 50th anniversary of her election to Congress,” said Zinga A. Fraser, director of the Shirley Chisholm Project on Brooklyn Women’s Activism at Brooklyn College. Still, “Hillary Clinton did not evoke her during her campaign,” Ms. Fraser said. “Neither did Barack Obama.”

Dr. Fraser, whose research on Congresswoman Chisholm has informed articles for The Associated PressThe Guardian, and The Washington Postis currently working on a book entitled Sister Insider/ Sister Outsider: Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan Black Women’s Politics in the Post-Civil Rights Era. The book will emphasize Shirley Chisholm’s deep congressional legacy, is frequently left out in retrospectives and tributes to the Congresswoman.

Serving as a Representative from 1969-1983 and as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, Shirley Chisholm had a transformative impact on the political landscape–not merely a symbolic one. However, as Dr. Fraser suggested in The New York Times, none of the Democratic Party’s candidates or mainstream operatives have given Chisholm the credit she was due. Aside from Obama and Clinton, Rev. Jesse Jackson also launched a bid for the presidency in 1984 (and a second one in 1988), but never gave her credit for paving his way twelve years earlier. When the time came for Barack Obama’s campaign that propelled him as the first African-American president of the United States, Jesse Jackson was frequently mentioned in the national press, but Chisholm was barely mentioned, if at all.

On Twitter this morning, Dr. Fraser reminded the public that although Chisholm’s name and likeness have seen an upsurge in the past two years, we should not confuse this with a substantive engagement with her ideas, legislative accomplishments and socio-political impact:

Charles Rangel, who served with Shirley Chisholm as part of the New York Delegation and the Congressional Black Caucus, shares Dr. Fraser’s caution about the recent interest in Chisholm’s legacy. Rep. Rangel was also quoted in the article:

The former Representative Charles Rangel, who served from 1971 to 2017, said Ms. Chisholm’s “newly found recognition” was “fully due to this new women’s movement.” He added, “Shirley did not get this type of support from men or women at the time. We always wait until somebody dies to do what we wish we had done while they were alive.”

During her run for the presidency, Chisholm was frequently snubbed or ignored by the national press despite proving her seriousness as a candidate in a crowded primary field among a number of Democrats who did not campaign nationally like she did. Her candidacy was also criticized by many Black political figures—including the Congressional Black Caucus and the organizers of the historic 1972 Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. What little support she found among the mainstream feminist movement was of the fair-weather and non-committal kind with feminists like Rep. Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem paying lip service to Chisholm’s candidacy, but also suggesting support for Senator George McGovern instead.

Nonetheless, Chisholm’s lifelong work as an educator, political theorist and political actor made a much broader impact than an emphasis on the “firsts” of her campaigns suggest. Aside from fighting as a champion for minorities, women and the working class, Chisholm also pioneered the blueprint for political coalition-building across class, gender and racial lines that every successful Democratic candidate after her has emulated.

At the Chisholm Project, we hope to continue  to raise awareness about Shirley Chisholm above and beyond the imagery and iconography that has begun to emerge in recent years. If you are interested in contributing to the Project and our forthcoming initiatives, please find instructions for donating on this page.

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