Yesterday, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Dr. Zinga A. Fraser and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) joined Higher Heights to celebrate Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. While Chisholm is increasingly remembered for her now-legendary campaigns, Sunday’s panelists sought to take the story of her life further. Both panelists argued that the public narrative around the Congresswoman should be as multi-faceted as the woman herself.
Speaking of Chisholm’s famous campaign mantra, Dr. Fraser (Director of the Shirley Chisholm Project) observed, “This idea of her being ‘unbought and unbossed’ stems out of a discussion she has internally with herself—and also a critique of the Black political leadership of that time.” It was the rich inner life of this woman that fueled her public fight for social justice. Rep. Lee reminisced about Mrs. Chisholm’s love of dancing, her kindness as a personal mentor, and her struggles enduring the barrage of misogyny and racism she faced. Dr. Fraser emphasized Mrs. Chisholm as a political architect whose strategic vision reached across generations.
“She was a very sensitive woman,” remembered Congresswoman Lee. “Yet in public, she was like the pillar of strength. She was a beautiful woman who felt the pain of her people. She felt the pain of young people. She kept moving, but she was definitely a very very sensitive woman who felt the pain of people suffering.”
The people “who really activated her,” elaborated Dr. Fraser, “who put the seed in her to run for Congress were working-class and poor women—poor Black women.”
“The positionality of her being raced and gendered in a certain way, Dr. Fraser added, “provided her a lens to be an advocate for progressive politics. It allowed her to mobilize and engage a coalition politics….Before a Jesse Jackson, before President Obama, she tries her best to create that people’s coalition. That legacy is what allows Barack Obama to get into the White House. That legacy is what allows Kamala Harris to reach the position she has today.”
Throughout the conversation, Rep. Lee and Higher Heights President Glynda Carr praised Dr. Fraser’s scholarship and the work of Chisholm Project for their efforts to maintain a political legacy of Chisholm. Today, on International Women’s Day the Shirley Chisholm Project continues its mission to bring the voice, spirit and mission of Mrs. C to the forefront of our political consciousness. We are proud to have partnered with Higher Heights for America—a steadfast ally in that effort and a leading force in the fight for gender equity in political leadership.