Nov. 5th marked the historic 50th Anniversary of the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, Rep. Shirley Chisholm. This important milestone marks a watershed moment in American politics for Black women, to emerge and take their rightful seats at the table of elected Democratic leadership.
As the representative from the state of New York, Rep. Chisholm still serves as a trailblazer, inspiring a generation of women elected officials. Her career and that of many Black women in Congress are intrinsically connected.
One of those women, is California Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
Rep. Chisholm’s 1972 campaign, as the first Black person and first woman to ever run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, and first woman, major party candidate, galvanized young women all over the country. One such woman, a young college student attending Mills College, upon meeting the Congresswoman on the presidential campaign trial, immediately signed on to help organize the Chisholm for President Northern California primary campaign.
That student was Rep. Barbara Lee.
Although Rep. Chisholm faced tremendous obstacles getting on statewide ballots, she earned primary votes in 14 states, with her second biggest win coming in the June 6 California primary, garnering 4.4 percent of the vote, and finishing fourth. At the end of the presidential primary, Rep. Chisholm produced 28 delegates that she took to the Miami Democratic Convention.
In her 1973 book, “The Good Fight,” she explained: “I ran for the presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.”
Rep. Chisholm’s run for the Presidency was one of many glass ceilings she would break.
It would be Rep. Barbara Lee’s first time at a Democratic National Convention, this one in Miami, and as a Chisholm delegate.
As the Representative from the Bay Area, Congresswoman Lee is the first woman, and the first African American woman, to represent Northern California in the state House, and in Congress. She is a former Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
While Shirley Chisholm’s incredible journey has clearly provided a direction, wisdom, and INSPIRATION for the many women leaders to come after her, to date, there have only been 41 African-American women to serve in the House, (including House delegates), and the Senate.
Today, there are 21 African American women serving in the U.S. Congress. There are fewer or none, to ever serve in statewide or local elective offices.
The 50th Anniversary of Rep. Chisholm’s election offers our country a chance to renew our commitment to Black women, not only in elective office, but within the ranks of true political power. Black women will disregard the old, conventional ways of wielding power, and owe little to nothing to traditional institutional structures of power. In the last year, we have seen black women create the margin of difference in races in Alabama, Virginia, Florida, and Georgia.
It is no secret that black women are the most consistent, the most loyal base of Democratic voters.