“We are entering a new era in American politics in which we must, as Americans, demand stature and size from our national leadership—leadership which is fresh, leadership which is open, and leadership which is receptive to the problems of all Americans.” [From Shirley Chisholm’s campaign announcement. January 25th, 1972]
On January 25th 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm made a momentous announcement. She would become the first Black woman to seek a major party nomination for the presidency of the United States. She made her declaration at Concord Baptist Church in Bedford Stuyvesant, New York. In her announcement, she declared that “a new era had come in American politics.”
What new era did Shirley Chisholm envision and help to create? Why did she run for the presidency in 1972 against staggering odds? Although much of her political goals and philosophies are outlined in her powerful campaign announcement speech, a great deal of what Chisholm accomplished through her campaign in 1972 remains unexplored. The fact is, she did not run just for one reason but to catalyze change in every aspect of American society. The Shirley Chisholm Project works year round to uncover and document her ongoing impact.
One of the major reasons she ran was to make it possible for marginalized people to take control of their own political destiny. She believed that if women, youth and minorities flexed their political muscles against the powers-that-be their strength and quality of life in America would grow. But someone had to take the lead in beginning that process. Seeing no one else with the will to do so, Shirley Chisholm did so herself.
“I am a different kind of national voice that has emerged on the American scene in terms of the fact that I am not espoused by any kind of powerful interest groups in this country, financial or otherwise. And those who know about my candidacy and understand what I am trying to do at this hour in America recognize that I have a gut commitment to people first of all, to the exclusion of all other interests.” — Shirley Chisholm (1972)
“Action, not rhetoric” was at the core of Chisholm’s political philosophy. And this is why, whenever we remember Shirley Chisholm, we must resist a purely symbolic interpretation of her political life. She did not run to merely increase the visibility of Black people and women on the national political stage, but to engage marginalized groups to, in her words, “transform American society.”
Stay tuned to the Chisholm Project’s on our website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for updates on our year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Chisholm’s presidential run.